Some in N.W.T. still waiting for green light on new cannabis stores

Plans for a cannabis dispensary inside a new marijuana accessory store in Yellowknife are on hold until the territorial government makes some decisions, says its owner.

‘There’s a lot of money to be made here,’ says Inuvik town councillor

A person rolling a joint.
A would-be cannabis retailer in the N.W.T. says he's unsure when he'll know the next step in his application to sell legal cannabis at his new Yellowknife shop. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday marks six months since cannabis was legalized in Canada. At least one entrepreneur in the Northwest Territories hoped to be selling cannabis in a retail location by now, but he's not.

"April 17th, they were supposed to start handing out licences, we thought — or we hoped — in the city [Yellowknife], but nobody seems to know," said Luke Wood, president of Releaf NT.

"It could be months away yet."

Releaf NT is a cannabis accessory shop that opened last weekend in Yellowknife. Wood said the company has applied to sell cannabis and filed an expression of interest to do so with the territorial government, but they are still waiting to hear what their next step will be.

Last fall, the territory rolled out a 23-page information guide on opening a cannabis retail store that detailed a six-step process for people wanting to enter the business. The decision on whether to approve a store is ultimately up to the territory's finance minister. 

When cannabis was legalized, the Northwest Territories government made the decision to allow liquor stores to sell cannabis for the time being. The supply of cannabis in the territory is controlled by the territorial government.

'One stop' shopping

Wood says keeping cannabis sales limited to liquor stores isn't good for business.

"[Customers] buy cannabis accessories here and then they have to go somewhere else to buy cannabis, so it would be nice if it's a one-stop shop. We'd get more customers for our other products," Wood said.

Wood said the cost of cannabis is high in the N.W.T. right now, but he believes as the supply of cannabis increases, prices could drop.

Although Releaf NT is not selling pot, the shop has a section devoted to gardening, as it's now legal to grow a limited quantity of marijuana plants.

"I think because of the price of cannabis, that will be a good alternative to purchasing flower or oil … you can grow your own," Wood said.

'There's a lot of money to be made here'

Inuvik is the only town with a liquor store in the N.W.T. that doesn't sell cannabis. Its owners, the Inuvialuit Development Corporation — a subsidiary of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation — had decided not to sell cannabis when it became legal.

With no other retail locations available, residents there must go online to order legal pot delivered through the mail. But Inuvik town council is looking into adding bylaws to prepare for cannabis sales, should a store be proposed there.

"We are looking at things like where can a cannabis store go … it's a really crucial time in our community because there's a lot of money to be made here," said Dez Loreen, a town councillor and local cannabis advocate.

"I think people like getting high and it's about time we realize that … as a region. And if the government opens it up … this is a real revenue builder."

No one in the N.W.T. Department of Finance was available for an interview, but departmental spokesperson Todd Sasaki stated in an email that the shortage of licensed cannabis suppliers has impacted the supply of pot in the territory, and that the high potency of the products has led to the higher prices.

He said the N.W.T. Liquor and Cannabis Commission "has not considered adjusting the price of cannabis products at this time, however, eliminating the illegal market continues to be a primary focus."