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Haze shrouds cannabis fight over treatment

As Canadians prepare for legal marijuana use, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is indicating it's not ready to support the move until the territory has addictions treatment facilities. President Aluki Kotierk is indicating legal options are not out of the question.

If anyone has the power to make the federal government move on this file, it's NTI, as proven by its success in getting the federal and territorial governments to pony up over the failure to meet Inuit employment targets as set out in the Nunavut Agreement.

Kotierk suggests NTI is aiming to protect the population, and that may well be the case.

But if it sounds familiar that Kotierk is bringing treatment facilities into the conversation, that's because former premier Paul Okalik used the exact same argument against a beer and wine store in Iqaluit.

Okalik gave up his positions as minister of health and of justice to protest the government's plans to open a pilot store, saying a treatment centre was needed first. This flew in the face of popular desire, as confirmed by a plebiscite that saw a vast majority indicate support for a store.

Treatment centre or not, the people felt they could handle alcohol sales in Iqaluit, and trusted precedent in Greenland that access to low-alcohol content products – beer and wine – would reduce the impacts of alcohol use in the community.

As if the plebiscite was not enough of a sign for the territory's longest standing member of the legislative assembly, Okalik suffered a dramatic defeat after – according to constituents who welcomed him into their homes – a lackluster campaign that offered more of the same. Obviously, the tide had turned for Okalik and his politics.

The fact is, Nunavut does need a treatment facility. It's extremely hard to understand how – despite repeated calls by politicians at various levels of government – this has still not become a reality. Why is no one listening?

It seems the territorial government is content to send people out of territory, if treating them at all. Money can be found for flights and for facilities that don't understand the Nunavut experience, yet that same money can't be spent here? Doesn't make sense.

So NTI and Kotierk are right to take a stand on the treatment facility issue. The legalization of another drug is a great time to push the federal government to make good on its commitment to Indigenous people. On this file, Nunavut will need help the same way the feds have thrown loads of money at prisons. Not exactly setting the right tone by supporting prisons but not treatment centres.

Most Nunavummiut want home-grown treatment facilities. But Kotierk and NTI should not be surprised if – when the Government of Nunavut releases its marijuana survey results – Nunavummiut also support access to marijuana the way they have supported beer and wine liberalization in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay.

The progressive Inuit that Kotierk sought to develop in her presidential campaign may prove more progressive than she thinks. But it looks like NTI is using the marijuana issue to get treatment money, and, frankly, we're fine with that.