Despite the passage of 15 months and a request from the City of Iqaluit to permit a retail cannabis outlet in Nunavut’s capital, the Government of Nunavut is still sorting out relevant regulations.

While residents in the NWT and Yukon have been able to walk into retail cannabis locations to make purchases since the legalization of recreational marijuana on Oct. 17, 2018, Nunavummiut are legally still limited to purchasing cannabis products online. The GN won’t have its guidelines for cannabis storefronts finalized for at least a few more months, according to the Department of Finance.
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“We’re currently finalizing our approach to cannabis retail in the territory and do not have firm dates at this moment,” reads an emailed statement from Jo-Anne Falkiner, the Department of Finance’s director of corporate policy, on Jan. 29. “Regulatory development to enable physical cannabis stores should be complete in the next few months.”

Pat Angnakak, Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA, replied that “the GN should provide a storefront for cannabis as it will allow a safer way to buy cannabis in Nunavut. It should be done ASAP.”

Iqaluit municipal council agreed at its Jan. 14 meeting to call upon the GN to allow a cannabis sales location in the city. Mayor Kenny Bell was reluctant to criticize the territorial government for its pace on the issue.

“We wouldn’t say too slow as we realize that everything takes time, but that being said we are way behind every other provinces and (territories) and we just wanted to make sure the government knows council supports having a store here in Iqaluit and that we would like to see movement on the issue,” Bell stated.

By comparison, cannabis was available for sale through several Northwest Territories liquor stores when recreational marijuana was legalized on Oct. 17, 2018. Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells all have retail locations selling cannabis products.

In Yukon, a government-run cannabis retail outlet opened in Whitehorse on Oct. 17, 2018 but the territorial government shut it down a year later when two privately-owned retail locations – one in Whitehorse and one in Dawson City – were established.

Nunavut’s Cannabis Act mandates that community consultations must take place prior to approval of a cannabis store but no licensing consultations have yet taken place, according to the GN.

Bell said the topic never arose during the Nunavut Association of Municipalities annual general meeting in Rankin Inlet in November.

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone, who chastised the government in the legislative assembly in late October for failing to set guidelines for cannabis storefronts, said he believes increasing accessibility to legal cannabis could offset some alcohol consumption, which is leading to violence and crime.

He said cannabis in Nunavut is, at present, almost entirely supplied by the black market.

“There is potentially millions of dollars being funneled out of Nunavut every year through drug dealers,” said Arreak-Lightstone.

“Cannabis was legalized for three reasons: keep it out of the hands of youth, remove sales from the black market and regulate the product to prevent lacing with harmful substances. Without reasonable access to cannabis in our communities, none of these three initiatives will be achieved,” the Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA stated, adding that a Nunavut-based addictions treatment centre is needed but is still several years away. “I am in full support of controlled access through retail cannabis outlets.”

In the legislative assembly last October, Finance Minister George Hickes stated: “I would love to get this done tomorrow, but I also want to make sure it’s done properly. My entire goal, and I know the staff’s goal in these regulations, is to make sure it’s done right. So, we don’t have to keep going back and forth (or put) unforeseen challenges in front of our potential retailers or licensees.”

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Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...