MLAs pass Nunavut’s cannabis legislation—the last in Canada
“We had limited time”
Nunavut MLAs finally passed Bill 7 last week—the territory’s Cannabis Act—making way for the legal, online purchase of small amounts of marijuana.
Earlier this month, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-45, the federal government’s Cannabis Act with some amendments.
“This was a crucial milestone,” said Nunavut’s outgoing Finance Minister David Akeeagok in the legislative assembly last week.
The finance department crafted the bill over many months of consultation.
“We fully expect Canada will continue to move ahead quickly to legalize cannabis across the country,” Akeeagok said on June 13.
Bill 7 establishes the legal framework to administer and regulate cannabis sales and use to and among Nunavummiut, aged 19 and up.
During their review of the bill, the MLAs did a line-by-line examination and made some small amendments before voting to pass the new made-in-Nunavut legislation. It received assent June 13.
The Cannabis Act sets the stage for the creation of the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission to oversee sales of marijuana, called surranngnaqtuq or ujarak in Inuktitut. The Liquor and Cannabis Board would look after licensing.
It also allows for online sales of cannabis, but would restrict residents from growing marijuana plants in their homes.
But Nunavut’s newly named Finance Minister George Hickes—sworn in last week after MLAs ousted Premier Paul Quassa—made a last-minute push to leave the door open to homegrown marijuana in the territory.
The MLAs agreed to add a provision to the act that would allow the government to explore and develop regulations around the cultivation of cannabis plants in Nunavut, should the territory decide to revisit that.
“I truly do understand the dilemma and the concerns, but I still think there is an opportunity to explore avenues for cultivation,” Hickes, who represents the riding of Iqaluit-Tasiluk, said in the legislature last week ahead of the vote on Bill 7.
“I would be very curious to see something like that instead of a flat-out blanket, not permitted, where there could be an amendment to allow for regulations to be able to have that variable introduced.”
Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser introduced another motion to tweak a regulation that would have allowed Nunavut school grounds to be used for cannabis consumption after school hours.
The MLAs voted to amend that clause so that cannabis consumption is prohibited on school grounds at all times, as a means of protecting children who use those areas before and after school.
Generally speaking, the smoking of cannabis will be banned from the same public places where smoking tobacco is now forbidden, and any cannabis transported in a motor vehicle must be either out of reach or in a sealed container.
The new law also gives police officers the power to conduct searches, without warrants, of any motor vehicles they have good reason to believe hold cannabis, and similar reasonable grounds to suspect that evidence would be destroyed if they waited for a warrant.
The health and safety concerns around cannabis use factored greatly into the legislative debate around the bill over the last few weeks.
To that end, earlier this month, the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health issued a request for proposal for a cannabis awareness campaign to illustrate the health risks associated with using marijuana.
But the MLAs still had a number of questions around local access to marijuana, which will remain available only through online purchase for the time being.
However, the new law does have provisions that would allow marijuana to be sold locally, for home use or for purchase at a facility that the new regulations call a “cannabis lounge.”
A clause within the act provides for community consultation before any kind of local licence can be approved. But the GN said last week that there were no applications from Nunavut to sell cannabis within the territory.
For the time being, the GN is eyeing a handful of distributors that could facilitate online orders from the territory, some of whom already provide medical marijuana to licensed customers in Nunavut.
The GN has yet to set a price on its marijuana sales. The territory’s first batch of regulations related to that will be introduced starting in August, Akeeagok told the legislature.
The federal government has suggested that legal sales won’t likely begin until the end of summer or early fall, while provincial and territorial governments take time to adapt to the new regulations.
Bill 7 was the last piece of cannabis-related legislation to pass among Canada’s provinces and territories, and most MLAs, Akeeagok included, said they felt pressed to push the bill through.
“We had limited time,” Akeeagok acknowledged.
“This will be our legislation once it’s set and we’ll have opportunities to amend it.”