Nunavut MLA asks blunt questions about legalized weed

GN working group set up to study future cannabis legalization issues

By STEVE DUCHARME

Here are the fruits of a drug bust that took place in Cambridge Bay on June 4, 2015, when police seized 7.5 kilograms of pot, among other things. (FILE PHOTO)


Here are the fruits of a drug bust that took place in Cambridge Bay on June 4, 2015, when police seized 7.5 kilograms of pot, among other things. (FILE PHOTO)

If Ottawa follows through on a promise to introduce legislation that would legalize marijuana next year, will Nunavummiut buy their pot from a Nunavut Government-owned distributor?

If so, Nunavut’s justice minister, Keith Peterson, has an idea of what to call it.

“We would have to think of a new name for that, “Subsidiary of the Nunavut Weed and Liquor Commission,” Peterson said Nov. 1 in Nunavut’s legislature, sparking a round of laughter.

Peterson’s comment came during a line of questioning from Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who asked the minister for an update on the territory’s preparations for pot legalization.

Following up on a promise made during his federal campaign last year, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said his government is introducing legislation in the House of Commons next spring to begin the process of legalizing marijuana.

Peterson said that the Government of Nunavut’s official stance on legal pot would depend on how Ottawa frames that legislation.

“We have not given any political directive to the government [of Nunavut] as yet,” Peterson said, adding that his department is waiting for the preliminary report by the federal Task Force on Marijuana Legislation and Regulation, which Peterson said will be released some time this month.

Provincial, territorial and federal justice ministers met in Halifax to discuss the issue in September, Peterson told the MLAs.

“They were very productive meetings. It’s good to hear and see what everybody else is discussing and what their concerns are,” he said.

Territorial and provincial ministers urged the federal minister at that meeting to implement a 12-to-24-month “gap period” for jurisdictions to respond to legalization and distribution issues, Peterson explained.

As to how those issues would play out in Nunavut, Peterson said his department hasn’t developed a response.

“We most certainly haven’t given much consideration to the distribution of marijuana in the communities,” he said.

“We’re already struggling with the distribution system for liquor products in Nunavut. I’m sure at some point we will be giving it some consideration.”

Mikkungwak asked if the GN would respect the ability of communities to hold votes regarding marijuana, similar to the liquor plebiscite held in Iqaluit last year.

“Mr. Mikkungwak is way out front of us on that,” Peterson said.

But he did say that an interdepartmental working group with people from Nunavut’s finance, health and justice departments is already discussing issues raised by pot legalization.

In its discussion paper “Toward the Legalization, Regulation and Restriction to access of Marijuana” the Government of Canada says the illegal trade in marijuana creates about $7 billion in income annually for organized crime.

The added income to governments for implementing taxation or taking over the sale of legalized marijuana is also expected to be in the billions, however the projected estimates differ widely.

That’s in part because the actual framework of Trudeau’s pot legalization has yet to be fully detailed.

But the eventual legal sale of weed to the public will undoubtedly take multiple bills—focusing on possession, sale, quality, distribution and enhanced penalties for illegal trafficking—to pass through Parliament.

In 2014, marijuana possession offences resulted in 57,314 police-reported offenses under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

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