Senate committee wants pot bill delayed to meet Indigenous concerns
Inuit, other Indigenous groups want more consultations, addictions treatment in place first
A Senate committee has recommended the federal government delay the implementation of the Cannabis Act to allow more consultation with Indigenous groups.
If passed, Bill C-45 would legalize the sale and possession of recreational marijuana with a proposed implementation date of July 1, 2018.
But before that happens, a number of Inuit and other Indigenous groups say the government must first help put in place culturally appropriate mental health and addictions services.
Indigenous groups also say they want to be prepared to take part in the economic opportunities that could come with legal cannabis sales.
All of this is outlined in a new report from the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which studied the bill earlier this year.
Inuit elders from Nunavut told the Senate committee the territory lacks an addictions treatment centre and any substantial traditional knowledge-based prevention services.
“There are many people committing suicide because of alcohol and cannabis,” Isaac Shooyook, the Arctic Bay elder and former Quttiktuq MLA, told the committee.
“This is unacceptable. We do not want any more problems being placed in front of us, things we cannot deal with.”
Witnesses told the committee that Inuit youth—and Indigenous youth in general—are disproportionately affected by mental health and substance use issues, in many cases due to intergenerational trauma, poverty and the lack of culturally relevant support services.
The president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Aluki Kotierk, told the committee that Indigenous Services Canada has shown a willingness to fund a feasibility study for a Nunavut-based addictions treatment centre, though in the best-case scenario, the project has a five-year timeline.
Even with a centre in place, Kotierk said Nunavut Inuit have not had enough time to make meaningful decisions about how the territory wants cannabis regulated.
She told the committee the consultations have been “inadequate” and said they’ve failed to offer Inuit a chance to take part in “the design of social and cultural programs and services” as set out in Article 32 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson has already voiced his concerns with the federal legislation, saying it sends a signal to youth that it’s OK to use marijuana.
Under Bill C-45, youth between the ages of 12 and 17 caught with five grams or less of marijuana do not receive criminal charges.
Reporting on his own tour and consultation of Nunavut communities earlier this year, Patterson told the committee: “Whether they professed to be for or against the bill, [every community] took exception with the clause in the bill that would reduce possession of five grams or less by a youth older than 12 and younger than 18 to a ticketable offence.”
To that end, the Senate committee recommended the federal government delay the implementation of Bill C-45 for up to a year so it can respond to those concerns.
The committee also recommended that the federal government reserve at least 20 per cent of all cannabis production licences for Indigenous-governed jurisdictions.
Despite the committee’s concerns, when the Government of Nunavut polled the territory last fall, three-quarters of respondents said they supported Bill C-45 and the legalization of small amounts of cannabis.
One-quarter of Nunavut residents aged 12 and up already report using marijuana at least once a week over the previous year, according to Statistics Canada’s 2014-16 Canadian Community Health Survey.
One in 10 reported using it every day.
With marijuana use already high across the territory, the GN has said that legalization is one way to help reduce harm.
Under the Nunavut government’s proposal, the minimum age for possessing and consuming cannabis would be 19.
Under federal rules, that age must at least be 18. Federal rules would allow those under 18 to carry up to five grams without facing criminal charges.
The GN has yet to say if the territory’s rules would be stricter.
You can read the Senate committee’s full report here.