Nunatsiaq Online
EDITORIAL: Around the Arctic April 19, 2017 - 7:00 am

Cannabis regulation: Nunavut must take its time

“The GN must not feel bound by Ottawa’s timetable”

But July 2018, the Trudeau government wants to create a legalized cannabis system, subject to multiple restrictions, that requires territorial, provincial and municipal regulation. How should Nunavut respond? (WIKIMEDIA FILE IMAGE)
But July 2018, the Trudeau government wants to create a legalized cannabis system, subject to multiple restrictions, that requires territorial, provincial and municipal regulation. How should Nunavut respond? (WIKIMEDIA FILE IMAGE)

Thanks to the two cannabis bills that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government unveiled this past April 13, the Government of Nunavut now faces some tough political choices.

That’s because, if the Trudeau government’s plan works out, Parliament will pass Bill C-45 and Bill C-46 in time for the new laws to take effect July 1, 2018, the date when Nunavut would be expected to do its part in carrying out Ottawa’s agenda.

By then, territorial and provincial governments are supposed to decide, through regulations, how recreational cannabis products will be legally sold and distributed within their jurisdictions.

But July 1, 2018 is Ottawa’s date, not Nunavut’s. In responding to Ottawa’s legalization of cannabis, the GN must not feel bound by Ottawa’s timetable.

Besides, as of that date, Bill C-45 would allow any adult person living in jurisdictions with no licenced retailers to order cannabis products online for delivery in the mail. This means those Nunavut residents who wish to buy legal cannabis can do so after July 2018 even if the GN does not create regulations.

So in deciding how to regulate legal cannabis in Nunavut, the GN must set its own agenda and follow its own timetable.

First, the GN must honour Article 32 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which states that Inuit have the right to participate in the design of social and cultural programs within the Nunavut settlement area.

Given the enormous potential social impact of a legal cannabis regime, this would require consultations that could take at least six months to a year to complete.

Here’s just one example. Right now, each Nunavut community may, through local plebiscites, decide if and how they want to regulate the possession and purchase of alcohol. They can choose to ban it, set up a committee to control it, or let residents air-freight as much legal booze as they want.

Should the local option provision be extended to legalized cannabis? Up to and including local prohibition?

To answer that, and numerous other questions, the GN needs time to do its own legal research and survey people in the communities.

Second, the Nunavut legislative assembly will dissolve this Sept. 24 and Nunavut voters will go to the polls Oct. 30 to choose 22 MLAs to serve in a new legislative assembly.

Following a couple of weeks of orientation, those 22 MLAs will likely meet around Nov. 17 to elect a speaker, premier and cabinet. The Christmas-New Year holiday period will last until mid-January. Like July and August, that’s a stretch of time when nothing much gets done in Nunavut.

So it’s likely the next Nunavut government will be unable to issue any meaningful political direction to the civil service until at least February 2018.

Third, the GN’s decision-makers must take the time to appreciate just how many people in Nunavut, aged 15 and older, are already importing, selling and consuming cannabis.

Unfortunately, precise statistics on the prevalence of cannabis use in Nunavut are hard to come by. The 2007-08 Qanuippitaali health survey, which reached nearly 12 per cent of the Inuit population, did ask questions about cannabis. But due to lack of follow-up and all-round dysfunction, the data was never reported.

But in Nunavik, an identical survey done in 2004, called Qanuippita, produced some startling numbers, especially for boys and men.

In that region, 84.6 per cent of men in Nunavik aged 15 to 19 admitted they used illegal drugs, mostly cannabis, during the 12 months prior to the date of the survey. For adult men up to the age of 45, self-reported numbers were similar, but dropped to 43.5 per cent after age 45.

Among girls and women in Nunavik, self-reported drug use, mostly cannabis, was lower: 69.3 per cent for girls aged 15 to 19 and falling to 49.6 per cent for women aged 25 to 44.

Nunavut is like Nunavik in many respects. But those numbers don’t necessarily mean levels of cannabis use are identical.

But police reported crime statistics in 2013 reveal the per capita rate of cannabis offences in Nunavut stood five times higher that year than for Canada as whole.

And consider, for a moment the career of Nunavut’s once-notorious Marijuana Party motormouth, Ed de Vries, who in 2006 estimated, inexpertly perhaps, that Nunavut dope smokers spent $25 million to $30 million a year on weed and hash.

“I’ve smoked pot with the leaders of our community… I’ve been in communities where I’ve seen elders smoking joints and doing hot knives, people I’ve seen written up in Above and Beyond as being saints, smoking dope with me,” deVries told Nunatsiaq News in May 2005.

His public persona was destroyed after he pleaded guilty in 2012 to sexually abusing minors. But prior to that, with no campaign, little access to CBC radio, and facing a long list of trafficking charges, de Vries managed to win 7.8 per cent of the vote in the Jan. 23, 2006 federal election.

The GN’s decision-makers will have to face reality. They must accept that many thousands of Nunavummiut love to smoke dope and aren’t about to change.

At the same time they must also recognize that cannabis, despite the evidence-free claims of many marijuana evangelists, is not harmless. For Nunavut this means acknowledging the well-documented co-relation between cannabis use and suicide, depression, anxiety and cognitive damage to the developing brains of children and teenagers.

The GN should therefore take the time to strike a good balance and get its cannabis regulations done right. And that likely means waiting until at least mid-2019, if not longer. JB

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(30) Comments:

#1. Posted by Bill Nye on April 19, 2017

I’d like to see your evidence for a link between cannabis use and suicide, Jim.

Let’s be clear that a correlations do not indicate a causal link.

Such a statement is about as informative as suggesting that writing poetry is also linked to suicide. Evidence: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Jack London… the list goes on. 

It makes me wonder, are you just evangelizing your own unexamined narrative?

#2. Posted by Concerned on April 19, 2017

Seeing that a gram of grass costs 20.00 now, where as it used to be 30,00 in the Capital, the lowering of the price may put a bit more food on the table in some Nunavut families.

#3. Posted by Common Sense on April 19, 2017

As we can see with alcohol, banning it in communities isn’t working. People are smoking pot now. They will still smoke pot if you don’t go along with the federal government. Why waste time and money and fight it?

Instead of using the worst example of someone who is a pot smoker to try and push your agenda why not talk to the public and see how many out there actually do use it on a regular basis.

I’m not an avid user myself but I certainly know a lot of people who are. The vast majority are hard working people who are in every industry in Nunavut. From retail to high levels of government.

I find most of the people against legalized pot are just fear mongering. They act like the world is going to end. People are smoking pot already. It’s not like every non-smoker is going to jump at the chance once it’s legal. Chances are if you don’t do it now you’re not going to once it is legal.

#4. Posted by Urban Inuk on April 19, 2017

Inuit, like many Canadians, already smoke weed.  The difference of legalizing it would mean more money for the government in taxes, a controlled substance (nothing laced with chemicals and hence less dangerous) and would take the control from the drug dealers who sell to all ages, take the money for themselves, and do not care what product they sell.  I think this editorial denotes a sense of colonial pretenses that suggest Inuit do not know how to govern themselves, or are incapable of making good decisions.  Also the money that Nunavut currently spends on arresting drug dealers and incarcerating Inuit would be saved and better used for treatment centers for addictions and other social programs.  The evidence is out there… please see other countries successes in legalizing drugs.  The same sentiment is behind the wine and beer store - control the substance - people are going to do it anyway. Put more money into the Nunavut government, out of southern drug dealers.

#5. Posted by Keeper on April 19, 2017

You’re stretching your interpretation of Article 32 to the breaking point here. I find it hard to believe that the NLCA drafters imagined the drafting of legislation on cannabis regulation to be a “social and cultural program”.

Worse still, you make the comparison to liquor regulation to prove your point. The reason why we have consultations and liquor plebiscites isn’t to satisfy Article 32 obligations, it’s because it’s required under the Liquor Act - which is a direct result of the Nunavut Act which gives the Legislature the power to write laws regulating intoxicants (s.32(1)(p)).

Nothing in the NLCA mentions intoxicants in any way. This is a Cabinet/MLA/GN issue, nothing more.

#6. Posted by The Dude on April 19, 2017

Good Editorial. It lays out the next steps and regulatory hurdles pretty well.

MLA candidates will have to address this somehow. The primary question is how it will be distributed.

If we rely on mail order weed, people in communities with notoriously slow mail service will just turn to their local dealers - why wait 2 weeks when Johnny Ujerak down the street can set you up in 20 minutes?

Ditto for ordering from a warehouse in another town. Undoubtedly the airlines would dream up some new processing fee to add to the negligible freight cost of shipping weed.

The only logical answer is local retail - but who should sell? Nunavut can either go full private market (Northern stores), or Government retailer.

I think the GN would do well to allow Hamlets to sell Weed. Hamlets and the GN could split profits 50/50, and both would enjoy the revenue boost.

This is unconventional, but it would work. No need to dream up new distribution systems when there are existing structures in place.

#7. Posted by Islander on April 19, 2017

One of the most mental state in Canada is taking its time.

#8. Posted by Witch doctor wannabe on April 19, 2017

Personally I think it should be sold through local pharmacies.

#9. Posted by Invest in Grow Ops on April 19, 2017

All the more reason why Nunavummiut need to be proactive and partner with and/or invest in cannabis producers. If we wait ‘till the territorial government to make regulations, users will start ordering online after July 1, 2018. Not only that southern businesses will capitalize on the legality and profit instead of Nunavummiut. There’s possibility of jobs created from producing pot locally. Some proceeds could be put towards mental health and addictions.

#10. Posted by The Dude on April 19, 2017

#8 Witch doctor wannabe

Except most communities don’t have a local pharmacy, and selling through Nursing Stations is not feasible.

#11. Posted by Witch doctor wannabe on April 19, 2017

#10 Fair point. Though I wonder if setting up outlets in some of those same tiny communities would even be feasible. Unless the Government were willing to let it be done though Coops and Northern stores (which is hard to see happening, though it could be done).

Let’s make an analogy to liquor distribution, where alcohol is still shipped in to a place like Chester or Taloyoak. Maybe the way to go is have it distributed regionally through pharmacies in hub communities like Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet, and Iqaluit.

#12. Posted by The Old Trapper on April 19, 2017

Sorry but I don’t agree with the editorial. It is the job of the GN and the MLAs to ensure that laws are implemented to benefit its citizens. The federal government has determined that Canadians should have access to marijuana in a safe and regulated manner.

It is not for the GN, or municipalities, to unilaterally deny some citizens this right to access. It is for the GN to figure out how to implement these proposed laws in a manner that produces the maximum benefit for its citizens.

Granted just over a year is not a whole lot of time, but it should be adequate if the GN gets its act together. It’s not like the GN has to figure this out all by itself, there are after all 10 provinces and 2 other territories that are all going through the same process. Maybe someone at the GN could pick up the phone and see what everyone else is doing.

#13. Posted by The Dude on April 19, 2017

#11 Witch doctor wannabe

It’s unlikely the GN, or the communities, would want to distribute through private retailers.

Regional distribution through pharmacies could work, but it wouldn’t alleviate the problem of black market dealers. Again, why order from the regional center if Johnny Ujerak down the street will provide for you?

We know Marijuana use is very high in our communities. The ostensible reason for legalizing it is to take the profits away from illicit dealers. Any regime that fails to do this is just wasting time.

Nunavummiut will need local access to legal dope. Using existing structures is best. Allowing the sale of marijuana through hamlets (or post-offices, though that would require Federal buy-in) is the logical solution.

Other plans will likely be floated (I’m guessing by Regional EcDev corps in partnership with southern entities) as alternatives, but until such ideas are proposed hamlets are the best bet.

Wanna see Iqaluit’s deficit halved within 2 years?

#14. Posted by Oh Noooo Break in's will come to affect on April 19, 2017

Ohhhh Noooo Look at the small hamlets breaking into the post offices , And now will see this to the Nursing Stations watch out here they come young gun holders .

Base Ball Batter/camera photo

#15. Posted by Paranoia on April 19, 2017

@14: my God, relax. There’s already more pot coming in by mail than you can imagine.

It’ll be affordable enough that people won’t need to resort to violence to get any. That’s why it’s being legalised, so people don’t have to resort to desperate measures.

#16. Posted by Helen Lovejoy on April 19, 2017

“Will somebody please think of the children!”

#17. Posted by sled dog on April 19, 2017

I recall recently the Department of Justice could not meet the deadline for something as simple as a small court claim. does anyone honestly think for a second they could match Ottawa’s timing on this issue.

#18. Posted by Witch doctor wannabe on April 19, 2017

I’m with Old Trapper. The GN has known as well as the rest of us that cannabis would be legalized since election night 2015. That we should “take our time” is a page from the “let’s do everything our way” (regardless of how dysfunction it is) play book.

We say we are ready for devolution, yet we are being encouraged to put on a spectacle of our unpreparedness to handle significant legislative change from the feds?

#13, The Dude;

I agree, it’s unlikely the GN will put this in the hands of a local distribution agencies like the Coop or any other retailer. Though pharmacies would ostensibly by more prepared for it.

I don’t quite get your suggestion that Hamlets should be distributing though? This contradicts your statement that we should use existing systems. Yet, Hamlets have no such systems? Can you explain?

As for the bootlegger down the street, well, we see the same issues in unrestricted liquor communities all the time.

So… beer, wine & weed stores? Time will tell.

#19. Posted by The Dude on April 19, 2017

#18 Witch doctor wannabe

Hamlets already have everything necessary to sell weed. Cash registers/Debit machines. Administrative capacity. Delegated legal authority.

Hamlets already sell business licenses. Lotto permits. Water/sewage services.

It’s not ideal, but it’s a damn sight better than either not allowing local distribution of weed, or waiting for the GN to get it’s act together to build or lease space to build new retail outlets.

Again, the thing to remember is that if Nunavummiut don’t have access to legal weed in retail form, they will continue to rely on illicit providers.

#20. Posted by Evangelist Registery on April 20, 2017

For sure there will be many details to work out. 

Canada has way too many cops and not enough court functionaries nor enough prisons.  There have been stays of legal proceedings because of lengthy delays and some of those regard distributors of very dangerous contraband things.

Because there are so many parties of interests, a registry of evangelists and advocates might be necessary to keep things honest.

#21. Posted by Licenced Dealer on April 20, 2017

It is complex but maybe build on local expertise?  GN can mandate the Hamlets to issue license to local retailers who have completed a “Licensed Cannabis Seller” training program. Prepare sellers to manage medical and recreational sales in a socially responsible way. This gives a fair chance for the black market dealers to move into the regulated and taxed market.

#22. Posted by Witch doctor wannabe on April 20, 2017

#21 I really like your thinking. We need to encourage more private enterprise. Also, private (licensed) sellers are much more likely to be responsive to market demands, where governments are typically tone deaf and apathetic.

#23. Posted by Northern Guy on April 21, 2017

The logic behind this editorial seems muddled. If legal cannabis products will be immediately available to Nunavummiut via online and via mail order dispensaries as of the July 2018 doesn’t this make it even more important for Nunavut to ensure that Territorial regulations are in place well in advance of that date rather than waiting?

#24. Posted by TSA on April 21, 2017

The NLCA and its main goals are to implement and protect Inuit culture.  what ever is impacting Inuit culture is part of NLCA.  The cannabis regulation isn’t part of Inuit culture.  Maybe until recently when Inuit decided it wants it part of its culture because maybe I don’t know who knows what.

#25. Posted by shaming game on April 21, 2017

“For Nunavut this means acknowledging the well-documented co-relation between cannabis use and suicide, depression, anxiety and cognitive damage to the developing brains of children and teenagers”.

Some have committed suicide because we make them look bad, very bad and this had lead to youth in killing themselves because they are rated as a"bad person” and made them feel not worth living anymore.

#26. Posted by Smart on April 21, 2017

If Ed de Vis statistics are correct than Nunavut you better be ready by July 2018.  Quite holding the people back of Nunavut and progress like the rest of Canada.  Hopefully, smoke shops will open up like Amsterdam.  Booze sales will be lowered and less Inuit being incarcerated in southern jails.  Time to release the native people from our jails for silly pot offenses and keeping them unemployed because of criminal records.  Think of the people and move forward with Canada.

#27. Posted by Sam on April 21, 2017


#28. Posted by Licenced Dealer on April 22, 2017

Things need to happen yesterday, if Inuit are to have access to safe cannabis. Pot entrepreneurs in the North probably need more training on book keeping and quality assurance practices. Perhaps hamlets or stores could do the accounting to get things rolling? A tragic story out of Nunavik in 2010 was that public health officials looking for the source of lead poisoning found it in the pot that was laced to add weight! So regulate with qualified sellers who can track everything from their Licenced Producer source.

#29. Posted by Snappy 20 on April 24, 2017

If I can’t walk into the Northern or Co-op in July 2018 and buy some weed, I will be placing my order online or by phone to be delivered to me by mail. Which will be my legal right. If Nunavut wants to take their cut of this cash cow, I suggest they allow it to be sold in stores and take their share of the taxes.

#30. Posted by Inuit friend on April 25, 2017

All this shit about legalizing drugs and alcohol should banned in Nunavut. There is no expertise to deal with the dangers in a social dysfunctionate environment. I smoke dope and drink alcohol but what I see in Nunavut is an abuse of everything in site. Get rid of the disfunction and the incompetence before anything is changed

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