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GN still working toward more cannabis retailers

More than three years after the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Nunavut still has only one storefront selling the product and its extracts, NunaCannabis Inc. in Iqaluit.
Although cannabis was legalized in Canada on Oct. 17, 2018, the Government of Nunavut never started accepting applications for retail locations in the territory until June 2020. Since that time, there was been one approved application — NunaCannabis in Iqaluit — one withdrawn application and one applicant is still working through the system, according to the Department of Finance. Black Press Media File

More than three years after the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Nunavut still has only one storefront selling the product and its extracts, NunaCannabis Inc. in Iqaluit.

The GN only finalized its regulations for retail cannabis outlets in mid-2020, drawing fire from a few MLAs for the lengthy delay. NunaCannabis made an application shortly after the GN’s legislation was approved.

Despite the single cannabis retail location among Nunavut’s 25 communities, the Department of Finance is “in discussion with a number of interested parties,” according to Jo-Anne Falkiner, the territorial government’s superintendent of licensing for cannabis retail.

Similarly, a Department of Finance spokesperson told Nunavut News in August 2020 that “We have, however, received a lot of interest from potential retailers … but (we) cannot provide more details until we have received a formal application.”

Yet NunaCannabis — where nobody responded to an interview request — remains the only such business in the territory.

One application for a retail outlet is still in progress and another was withdrawn since proposals were first accepted in June 2020, Falkiner noted.

“I like to think it is an economic development activity the communities could take a look at,” then-Finance minister George Hickes said while in the process of developing the regulations.

He also spoke of the need to reduce black market cannabis sales and provide a safer product with no illicit additives.

The Government of Nunavut still has two approved agents that sell strictly online to Nunavummiut: Tweed and Agmedica. NunaCannabis can also ship remote orders.

Falkiner said the territorial government would be open to having existing retailers sell cannabis in communities.

However, the appetite is non-existent among Nunavut’s two largest retailers — the North West Company and Arctic Co-operatives.

“The North West Company explored the cannabis business early on, but decided against it at that time,” stated North West Company spokesperson Ellen Curtis. “Because it is a highly-regulated business that would not easily integrate into our store operations, we have no plans to get into the cannabis business at this time.”

Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations with Arctic Co-operatives, told Nunavut News in July 2020 that Co-op representatives defeated a motion to sell cannabis in the communities.

“We don’t want this in our community-owned business,” was the message that was conveyed, Wilson said at the time.

He confirmed last week that the sentiment has not changed.

With dismal sales, the Government of Nunavut reduced its markup on dried cannabis to $1 per gram from $4 per gram in July 2019. Territorial government revenue from cannabis sales during the first quarter of 2019 was $15,602 on 3,481 grams of cannabis sold. By the second quarter, those figures tumbled to $10,194 on 2,190 grams sold. The most recent 12 reporting months show that the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission took in $12,000 from $160,000 in online sales by Tweed and Agmedica. NunaCannabis’s sales data is not disclosed due to privacy reasons, according to the Department of Finance.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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