City of Yellowknife says it was left out as N.W.T. gov't closes in on marijuana laws

A clearer picture of what legal cannabis will look like in the N.W.T. is set to roll out in a few weeks, but the City of Yellowknife says it should have been included in the planning process from the start.

Yellowknife should have been included in cannabis discussions from beginning, says city official

With legal cannabis expected to be the law of the land in July, the City of Yellowknife is saying it should have been involved in planning with the territorial government from the start. (Shutterstock)

A clearer picture of what legal cannabis will look like in the N.W.T. is set to roll out in a few weeks, but Yellowknife's senior administrative officer says the city should have been included in the planning process from the start.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett says the city is going to be the "first line of defence" for administration of the new law, which is set to become reality in July 2018, because responsibilities such as public safety and nuisance issues, zoning bylaws and business licences are within the municipal mandate.

"I would challenge any territorial or federal government that would downplay that," she said. "We have seen first-hand some of the social issues we end up inheriting at the community level because we are the most immediate and accessible level of government."

City of Yellowknife SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett says the city should have been involved in the N.W.T. government's plan for legalized cannabis from the start. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

To this end, Bassi-Kellett says Mayor Mark Heyck wrote a letter to Justice Minister Louis Sebert on Oct. 2 to call for community-level governments to be consulted as partners with the territorial government in drafting marijuana legislation.

"We've reached out and we haven't heard back," she said.

Mark Aitken, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Justice, said his department met with the city as well as the N.W.T. government departments of Finance, Health and Social Services and Municipal and Community Affairs on Oct. 13.

"So that's why we didn't write back, because we felt we had engaged with them," said Aitken.

He included a timeline for the territorial government's vision for legal weed in the N.W.T.

"Within a few short weeks our plan will be outlined for the public," he said.

City wants piece of revenue pie

On Nov. 10, the federal government outlined a revenue sharing proposal for marijuana that calls for a 50/50 split between federal and territorial/provincial governments.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents about 99 per cent of the territory's population including Yellowknife, is calling for a piece of the profits. Bassi-Kellet said the city fully supports the federation on that point.

In response to this call, Bill Blair, the federal parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said the federal government has committed $81 million to Indigenous and municipal policing. That money will be doled out by provincial and territorial governments.

As for a permanent revenue sharing regime, N.W.T. Department of Finance spokesperson Todd Sasaki says the territorial government will not consider the municipal request until discussions over taxation with the federal government are complete.

How much money is up for grabs?

Sasaki says it's too soon to say, but government officials don't believe it will be altogether too much dough.

"Cannabis tax rates will have to be kept low to remain competitive with the existing illegal market," he stated in an email.