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EDITORIAL: Community pot retailers needed

Like most things in Nunavut, when it comes to consuming legal cannabis, it's hurry up and wait.

When recreational marijuana was legalized on Oct. 17, the Government of Nunavut had only one option available to Nunavummiut: online orders through a company called Tweed.

Initial internet pot sales in the territory have essentially been, excuse the term, a bust. Through Dec. 31, Nunavut residents ordered 4.2 kilograms of cannabis online. That amounted to $42,000 in total sales, of which $17,000 went to the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission. The GN also collects a small sum of taxes on those sales.

Speaking in the legislative assembly earlier this month, Finance Minister George Hickes admitted that online cannabis demand was "modest."

Hickes had some reassuring news, however. A second online retailer – Agmedica – recently became accessible to Nunavummiut. More products, more choices.

Plenty of stumbling blocks remain though. For one, people often want to smoke weed impulsively. Waiting a week or two for an order to arrive in the mail is a deal breaker for some would-be legal customers. They can simply head out on the street and get what they want from a local dealer, although they pay a premium for that convenience. Another online hurdle is some people don't have a credit card to complete the transaction. Meanwhile, cash is king with local dealers.

Hickes made the argument that the regulated supply is much safer, and he's right. That said, Nunavummiut have been tapping into supplies on street corners for many years without calamity.

The finance minister predicted that community retailers will make a dent in the black market. He's likely right about that too, and crippling "pushers" was a key reason some Nunavummiut were supportive of legal pot.

So when will we see those stores in communities? Hickes recently said he doesn't know. The GN invited submissions in November, but there's still no clear timeline on opening retail locations. In the NWT, five retailers were in place on Oct. 17. In the Yukon, Whitehorse has a storefront. It's important for the GN to get this right, but also important not to take so long. Same goes for edible marijuana products. Hickes said the government is studying options. The sooner the rollout, the better. Edibles are going to save the lungs of those choosing to smoke in the absence of chewable cannabis alternatives.

It's also imperative to remind consumers that edibles are dangerous to children. Toronto's chief medical officer has called for a ban on the candy variety of edibles – in the form of lollipops and gummy bears, for example – because kids will surely be attracted to them and wind up high and sick.

When the GN nails down the particulars relating to edibles and retail stores, and revenues consequently rise, there will be a noteworthy boost to the government's coffers. That money should be devoted to health. In a territory hard-pressed to meet medical needs in remote communities, the bonanza from cannabis should be used to treat what ails us.