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Nunavut on track for Oct. 17 online cannabis orders

by Avery Zingel and Derek Neary

Nunavummiut will be able to order cannabis online starting Oct. 17, as the Government of Nunavut edges closer to finalizing its supplier.

"The final preparations are coming together really nicely and we're confident we'll be ready for day one," said Dan Young, director of Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis for the Department of Finance.

Young, who sits on the cannabis working group, says the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission's website will go live on day one.

Customers over the age of 19 can order cannabis and a Canada Post agent will verify the buyer's age upon delivery at the post office.

There is no publicly available price for dried cannabis, concentrates or oils yet, though it will be "significantly cheaper" than prices reported by Nunavummiut, he said.

Anecdotally, some communities are currently paying anywhere from $10 per gram in Iqaluit to $100 per gram in more remote communities, said Young.

The price will go public once negotiations are complete with the supplying agent, though it is likely below $20 per gram, he said.

Purchases can only be made using credit, and people looking to buy cannabis who do not have credit cards will have to make use of prepaid card options, he said.

The Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission is not planning to open its own stores and any licensing regime for dispensaries will be held off until 2019, said Young.

The department has an obligation to give municipalities the opportunity to reject dispensaries in their communities, but the details on how exactly a community will be able to deny a dispensary will be ironed out in a future regulatory regime, he said.

While the Government of Nunavut can't control the purchase of cannabis from other online websites across Canada, it is one of only two jurisdictions setting a maximum legal limit on cannabis of 150 grams.

"Stopping them is outside the reach of the Government of Nunavut, but provinces and territories have been talking about cracking down on those websites," he said.


Maximum possession limits in place

To address possible bootlegging of cannabis, there are maximum quantities a person can order.

No person in Nunavut can possess more than 30 grams in public at one time and individual orders are restricted to 30 grams.

When not in a public space, one person may possess up to 150 grams at a time.

The 150 gram limit was instituted to recognize that anyone growing up to four plants at home would be above a 30 gram limit.

The 150 gram maximum is "a tool for police to say we think you're selling without people coming back and saying its for personal use. It's a huge amount," he said.

If RCMP enter a home and find more than 150 grams, a person can be immediately charged with possession over the legal limit, said Young.

Every gram of cannabis will be taxed $1.87, with 25 cents shared with the federal government. All taxes collected on cannabis will enter the general revenue stream, said Young.

Any markup on cannabis goes directly to the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission to fund ongoing operations for legal cannabis.


Deaths from marijuana legalization?

Up to four cannabis plants can be grown in Nunavut households after marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17. Pixabay photo.
Up to four cannabis plants can be grown in Nunavut households after marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17. Pixabay photo.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson was among a minority in the Senate who voted against legalized marijuana in June. At the time, he made a dramatic statement, warning that "there will be casualties. There will be mental illness. There will be brain damage. There will be deaths."

He didn't back away from that prediction in an interview last week.

"I am concerned," he said, expressing misgivings that a cannabis education campaign, particularly directed at youth, and that a treatment centre have not been rolled out in the territory. Because the federal government imposed the cannabis legislation on provinces and territories and because Ottawa stands to make significant revenue from taxing it – government estimates are $100 million in revenue over the first year – Patterson said he holds Ottawa largely responsible on these fronts.

Patterson and his colleagues sought answers last week during a meeting between the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and Jane Philpott, the federal minister of Indigenous Services. Philpott said the government has invested $62.5 million in its 2018 budget toward cannabis public education for Indigenous and other community-based organizations, including translation in Inuktitut.

Indigenous Services Canada also provides $350 million annually for community-based mental wellness services and addiction treatment for Indigenous peoples across Canada. As an example, Philpott cited Cambridge Bay, where $650,000 was allocated for a mental health crisis team that conducts on-the-land training.

"Our government understands there is concern about whether the implementation of the Cannabis Act will create unmet need in Indigenous communities for mental wellness supports, and supports for the prevention and treatment of problematic substance use," Philpott said. "Our government will continue to work very closely with Indigenous communities and leaders to address those needs, specifically in the area of front-line services for mental wellness, as well as the prevention and treatment of problematic substance use. We will also continue to work closely with Indigenous communities to make sure additional resources are in place, if needed."


NTI president expresses optimism

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Aluki Kotierk said collaborative work between NTI and the federal and territorial governments has resulted in a feasibility study for an addictions treatment and rehabilitation centre in Nunavut.

"I think we're of the view that we're making good progress toward the realization of an addictions treatment centre within Nunavut, so I think that's good," she said last week.

However, there's not yet a firm timeline for the facility to be built, likely in Iqaluit. In the meantime, mobile on-the-land treatment will be promoted, Kotierk said.

The issue will be addressed during NTI's board meeting in Iqaluit in a couple of weeks, she added.

Kotierk also credited the GN for its public information campaign on cannabis.

"We've noticed that the Government of Nunavut is doing some work to try and raise awareness and have public education materials about cannabis and have information which we think is really necessary," she said. "Is it enough? Probably we think that we should have more. But what we're going to do is continue to try and work with the territorial government to ensure that that type of information is available in our communities."


Opportunity for Hall Beach?

A former Hall Beach councillor and candidate for Amittuq MLA in 2017, one of Jason Ikeperiar's proposals was to help Hall Beach cash in on the marijuana business since decentralization of the territorial government didn't bring a wealth of jobs to the community.

"I want Hall Beach to grow more. It would be a good idea for a small community to be the hub rather than having to order (cannabis) from B.C. or online," Ikeperiar said last week, adding that greenhouses and hydroponics would enable supply to meet demand. "With today's technology, anything's possible."

Ikeperiar expressed doubt over Senator Dennis Patterson's alarm that marijuana will lead to deaths in Nunavut.

"I don't think, unless it's alcohol-related... it's not alcohol, it's not as destructive," he said. "Just marijuana-wise, I think it's just going to be benefits."

There may be some challenges as access to legal marijuana is introduced, but Ikeperiar, who served several years on Hall Beach hamlet council, said he hopes Nunavummiut take it in stride.

"Like anything else it takes time and you've got to go through it first," he said.