Cannabis is legal in Canada, as of Oct. 17, but the Inuvik Liquor Store will not sell it, unlike its counterparts in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells.
Selling cannabis on behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) would have minimal benefits and several risks associated with it, according to Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), which operates the liquor store.
Smith said selling cannabis through the liquor store may restrict the ability of IRC beneficiaries to travel to the United States.
“All the information and indications that we’ve been getting over a number of months is that US customs and borders have been asking people if they have any relation to cannabis at all,” said Smith. “They were being restricted from crossing the border, so if we are operating an outlet that provided cannabis, then our people could be restricted from entering the United States. They don’t even have to be directly involved with that service, they just have to be a beneficiary of our land claim, because we’re providing that service.”
In September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement saying that travellers wishing to enter the United States would not be able to if they had been involved with the legal cannabis industry.
Smith said Inuvialuit have many personal and business relationships with their Alaskan cousins, so IRC does not want to risk impeding their ability to travel between countries.
Last week, the statement was updated – Canadian citizens involved with legal cannabis proliferation would “generally be admissible to the U.S.” so long as they were entering the country for reasons unrelated to the cannabis industry.
The IRC has not had time to consider how this update would impact its decision to sell cannabis at the liquor store, so cannabis will not be sold there for now.
“We didn’t want to impede on individual Inuvialuit rights to travel back and forth, or our different entities under our land claim agreement that might negatively affect their day-to-day operations,” said Smith.
He added that IRC considered the economic benefits of selling cannabis through the liquor store and found that they would be “very minimal.”
Though it won’t be available in local stores for now, Inuvik residents over the age of 19 are able to purchase legal cannabis online through the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission website as of Oct. 17.
“It is going to be a legal substance,” said Smith. “So if you are going to use it, use it responsibly.”