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NTI president explains demand for marijuana legalization delay

Nunavut needs addictions treatment centres and a public education campaign on the effects of marijuana use before Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. approves of cannabis legalization, the president of the land claims organization said.

The federal government will legalize the sale and use of marijuana as of July 1, but Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is insisting on a delay in the territory until addictions treatment centres or mental health facilities are established and a public education campaign on cannabis use is in place.
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Anticipating that July 1 is not a reasonable deadline to accomplish those objectives, NTI passed a resolution in October calling for a delay in marijuana legalization in the territory.

Open to negotiation are the number of addictions treatment or mental health centres, whether they must first be constructed, and whether a pledge from Ottawa to build them will suffice, NTI president Aluki Kotierk said last week.

"It's been many years that Inuit and Nunavummiut have been asking for an addictions treatment centre so one would expect that there'd be that kind of facility within Nunavut," she said. "I can't answer how many (facilities) would be adequate, but those discussions need to start to ensure that we have that within our own jurisdiction."

Kotierk says a Taima TB or Drop the Pop-style information blitz would be helpful to ensure Nunavummiut understand the potential risks associated with the use of marijuana, particularly in a territory with a high proportion of young residents. "I think we're just being very protective of the population," she said.

The Government of Nunavut has the power to decide how marijuana will be distributed in the territory, the minimum legal age to use it, and what powers communities will be granted in relation to it.

Kotierk said NTI is accepting of the GN's role. Article 4 of the of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement states that Inuit will have a public government, and it's pertinent to this issue, she acknowledged.

"It makes sense that it would be the Government of Nunavut's responsibility," she said, noting that Article 32 of the land claims agreement stipulates that Inuit must be consulted when proposed legislation affects cultural and social spheres of life.

"I think it's in that aspect that the Government of Nunavut would then be obligated to involve NTI, to talk about what is the best approach, how do we do this?" she said, adding that NTI has a staff member who is a part of a working group on addressing policy.

William MacKay, deputy minister of Justice, said the GN shares NTI's concerns related to the "short timeline" that Ottawa has imposed for legalizing cannabis use. "However, the Government of Nunavut continues to work so that the territory can be prepared for the federal deadline of July 2018. This includes ongoing engagement with NTI," MacKay stated.

The Government of Nunavut will "very shortly" release the results of 1,418 marijuana legalization surveys it received, according to a spokesperson with the Department of Finance. No date was specified.

The 26-question survey was circulated between Aug. 22 and Sept. 22.
As of Dec. 6, Kotierk had been involved in an introductory meeting with the new members of the 5th legislative assembly, but they had not yet discussed any particular issues, she said. She also hadn't yet heard back from any federal officials about the legalization of marijuana in Nunavut, but she anticipates a call will come.

Asked whether NTI would take this issue to court if the federal government fails to adequately consult or meet NTI's demand for addictions treatment and mental health facilities, Kotierk replied, "I think NTI always takes the view that we keep all our options open.
"We haven't had any discussions about (legal options). I wouldn't assess that at this point. We don't know what's going to happen until it happens."