Nunavut’s plans for legalized pot remain hazy
Territory straggles behind rest of Canada in preparation
Adam Arreak Lightstone, the MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, has at least one constituent who’s fed up with marijuana smoke wafting into the family home from an adjacent public housing unit.
“The smell comes right into our apartment, and it smells as if someone who had been smoking in our unit and it’s very strong,” states a letter that Arreak read aloud during a member’s statement on March 19, as the most recent legislative sitting wrapped up.
“I’m concerned about the health impacts smoking in units can have on my children and everyone else’s,” the letter continued, “but my priority are my kids and other kids that are in the same situation.”
For Lightstone, this story touches on some important issues involving the regulation of the consumption and cultivation of cannabis in rental units and public housing. Legislation “needs to clearly address this issue, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to strike the best possible balance,” he said.
But with only a few months to go until the federal government hopes to legalize recreational marijuana, many of the big decisions about how cannabis will be regulated in the territory remain undecided.
Nunavut’s MLAs did approve some housekeeping measures during the recent legislative sitting to help prepare for legalization of recreational marijuana.
But it remains to be seen if Nunavut’s lawmakers are prepared to put their own regulatory system in place by July, when the federal government’s plans to legalize recreational marijuana are supposed to take effect.
These federal plans could face delays in the Senate, where Conservatives—including Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson—are threatening to hold up Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.
Patterson, who says he will vote against the bill unless he secures a promise from Ottawa to fund treatment centres in Nunavut, says the federal cannabis law is unlikely to be implemented before the autumn.
Nunavut is a straggler in its efforts to prepare for the legalization of cannabis. It’s the only jurisdiction without a framework or proposed legislation for cannabis use at this point.
If Nunavut doesn’t create its own rules before legalization takes place, the federal government’s rules will fall into place by default.
To lay the groundwork for legalization, Nunavut’s MLAs passed Bill 3, the Cannabis Statutes Amendment Act.
As a result of this bill, the smoking of cannabis will be banned from the same public places where smoking tobacco is currently forbidden.
As well, any cannabis transported in a motor vehicle must be either out of reach or in a sealed container.
The bill 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.
Police may similarly search without a warrant any person inside such a vehicle.
The bill amends a raft of existing laws: The Cities, Towns and Villages Act; the Motor Vehicles Act; the Liquor Act, the Marriage Act, the Pharmacy Act and the Tobacco Control Act. The bill will come into effect the same day as the federal Cannabis Act.
What remains missing is Nunavut’s central, forthcoming piece of cannabis legislation.
In February, the Nunavut government circulated a 10-page discussion paper during recent community consultations on marijuana legalization that sketches out a proposed approach.
It would put the legal age for possessing and consuming marijuana at 19, one year older than the federal limit. The territory would stick to the federal limit for personal possession, at 30 grams of dried cannabis.
Sales of marijuana, in the short term, would be restricted to online purchases delivered through the mail.
Yet the policy paper leaves plenty of big questions undecided.
Among them: Should the territory allow residents to grow up to four cannabis plants per household? Should youth under 18 be able to carry up to five grams without facing criminal charges?
Should residents be allowed to purchase and import cannabis from outside the territory? And, to Lightstone’s point, should landlords be allowed to restrict renters from growing and using recreational cannabis?
The federal plan will allow all these things, but the territory may create its own stricter rules if it so chooses.
Yet debate among MLAs during the past sitting didn’t venture into these thorny policy issues. And it seems the answers to some much more straightforward questions aren’t yet available.
On March 14, Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak asked how much tax revenue the Government of Nunavut expects to pull in from cannabis sales. “We have no idea,” replied Finance Minister David Akeeagok.
Mikkungwak also asked what share of this money will be shared with municipalities. It’s too early to say, said Akeeagok.
The Yukon plans to spend $2.7 million to purchase an inventory of cannabis to sell to residents, Mikkungwak noted. He asked whether Nunavut has similar plans.
No, said Akeeagok. Instead, Nunavut plans to outsource sales operations to third-party distributors through a forthcoming request for proposals.
On March 15, Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk asked how the Health Department is preparing for legalization. Health Minister Pat Angnakak replied that it’s preparing an education campaign.
Nakashuk also asked whether there will be additional resources put in place for such a campaign. “I would imagine the resources would be what we have in place now,” answered Angnakak.