Nunavut unprepared for cannabis legalization: senator

"We have to be prepared to deal with these impacts, and we aren’t ready yet”

By JOHN THOMPSON

Senator Dennis Patterson, seen here in Iqaluit during a meeting about the impending legalization of recreational cannabis in February, says the territory is unprepared for the social harms that could come with legalization. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)


Senator Dennis Patterson, seen here in Iqaluit during a meeting about the impending legalization of recreational cannabis in February, says the territory is unprepared for the social harms that could come with legalization. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

(Updated June 26, 4 p.m.)

Smoking cannabis will be legal, as of Oct. 17, and Nunavut remains unprepared for the potential social harms that could come with it, says the territory’s senator, Dennis Patterson.

“I don’t want to sound like a Reefer Madness guy. I know that there is significant support for legalization in Nunavut. I know that cannabis is widely used in Nunavut,” Patterson said in an interview.

“But there are going to be mental health impacts. People dealing with trauma can be vulnerable to mental health impacts like schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. And we have to be prepared to deal with these impacts, and we aren’t ready yet.”

Patterson heard many concerns from residents about home cultivation during his tour of the territory to discuss cannabis legalization. Nunavut’s legislators initially planned to ban home cultivation, but, at the eleventh hour, voted to remove that provision from their cannabis law. Nunavut could still impose additional restrictions through regulations to accompany the new law.

“The concerns are about normalizing cannabis in houses that are full of kids, about adding to the mould problem, adding to energy consumption, risk of fire with lamps, vulnerability to break and entry,” he said.

Nunavut will allow residents to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in public at any one time, in line with federal law. However, there is no limit to how much cannabis may be stored at a single home.

That raises another concern for Patterson. Given that cannabis will only be legally sold through the mail, “it’s going to be an invitation for people to traffic. ‘My order didn’t come in; the plane didn’t come in; can you help me out?’” he said.

During debates over the federal cannabis bill, Patterson said he would oppose the legislation unless Nunavut gets help building a substance abuse treatment centre. In the end, Patterson voted with his Conservative colleagues to oppose the bill. But he says he’s hopeful that progress is being made in securing money for a treatment centre for the territory.

Patterson met with Jane Philpott, Canada’s minister of Indigenous services, to discuss the matter mid-month. He notes that the federal government has announced a $400-million fund for treatment services for Indigenous communities, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has said it’s willing to contribute some money towards such a centre.

“I’m hopeful that Nunavut will finally receive some federal support for addictions treatment services in Nunavut,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Nunavut is seeking an outright ban on home cultivation of cannabis. In fact, Nunavut’s MLAs struck this provision from their bill during third reading on June 13. However, MLAs are still considering how to restrict by regulation cannabis cultivation beyond the federal limit of four plants per home.

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