Cannabis a business opportunity for Yellowknifers, consultation meeting hears

Yellowknife residents echo concerns with draft cannabis legislation heard across the territory.

MLA Shane Thompson says communities want more distribution options

Caroline Wawzonek, a lawyer and director with the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce, says this is a chance for business development. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

MLAs made their final stop in a string of public consultations on draft cannabis legislation Thursday in Yellowknife, and some residents echoed concerns that have been brought up on previous stops over the last two weeks.

"This is a chance for business development," said Caroline Wawzonek, a lawyer and director with the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce. She said the chamber doesn't want distribution to be limited to liquor stores.

A legislative committee, consisting of regular MLAs, have been touring the territory, hitting 17 communities in 11 days. They're asking residents what they think of the draft cannabis legislation. Yellowknife was the final stop, and now the MLAs will have to come up with a list of recommendations. 

The legislation includes a minimum age of 19 years old for the purchase, consumption and possession of cannabis.

As well, the liquor commission will be in charge for the import and sale of cannabis, and cannabis will initially be sold solely through liquor stores. And residents can grow up to four plants in their homes. 

"That opportunity is not going to be the same in six months," said Wawzonek. She wants entrepreneurs to have the chance to start businesses before cannabis is legalized.

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has taken a similar position.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson says one of the recommendations to the minister should be opening distribution to businesses other than liquor stores. (Mario de Ciccio/Radio-Canada )

"We're asking the territorial government to take an approach that supports small business growth and economic diversification in Yellowknife," said Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson said this is a sentiment he has heard through many of the communities.

Residents of Fort Liard pointed out that if the structure stays the same, they would probably take their business to British Columbia.

Without a liquor store in Fort Liard, residents would have to order cannabis through the mail — a process that can take about seven days.

Or they could go for a two-hour road trip to British Columbia and get their cannabis from Fort Nelson. That means profits would be leaving the territory.

"They really would like to have that opportunity to provide employment but also benefit from some of the resources in the community," said Thompson.

Thompson said he can't speak on behalf of the committees, but he believes one of the recommendations to the minister should be that distribution is open to other businesses.

Thompson also showed concern over the N.W.T.'s plan to sell cannabis and alcohol in the same location, despite recommendations from the federal task force that selling them together should be avoided.

The committees will meet to discuss the comments and concerns they heard from residents in the territory, and then will submit their recommendations on the draft cannabis legislation to the minister.

The public can provide written submissions until May 4 at 5 p.m.