With marijuana legalization set to take effect July 1, some of Nunavut's municipalities want to know if they'll be able to decide whether cannabis will be controlled or prohibited, as they do with alcohol.
"Some communities, as you well know, with liquor are dry communities. Will that also be an option for some communities to have, effectively, that local choice, and will it be done by plebiscites?" asked Madeleine Redfern, president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities (NAM). "The territory's legislation, right now, speaks to alcohol, it doesn't speak to marijuana."
Dan Carlson, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Finance, told Nunavut News that the Government of Nunavut – which will set policy on age restrictions, distribution and public possession and use – plans to further consult Nunavummiut and to "connect with municipalities to seek their views on a range of issues, including the roles municipalities could play."
Carlson said details of planned community consultations will be released in the near future.
There was no reply from the GN on the specific question of whether community marijuana plebiscites will be allowed.
In the Northwest Territories, where marijuana legalization regulations were drafted in November, communities will retain the right to hold plebiscites pertaining to the prohibition of marijuana.
NAM wants to engage with the Government of Nunavut about other aspects of marijuana legalization as well, Redfern said. The municipalities would like input on the possible methods of distribution – whether it mirrors the liquor distribution process, creating dispensaries in communities or ordering marijuana through the mail – and how those distribution models could impact municipalities.
"Let's have a conversation about how that affects us and what we'll need to be able to adequately respond and make those bylaw amendments," said Redfern.
There are also considerations regarding community bylaws, such as where marijuana smoking will be permitted in proximity to public buildings, public education campaigns, how municipal workers who use marijuana will be declared fit for work, law enforcement related to driving under the influence of cannabis and possible training for bylaw officers related to these issues.
While Redfern said Nunavut's 25 municipalities will need corresponding support and resources to make necessary revisions to bylaws, there may be opportunities to join forces with other entities to cover off some of those needs, she suggested.
"If they're training RCMP officers, is there any opportunity to also train our bylaw officers," she offered as an example.
Asked whether NAM supports Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s position that addictions treatment centres must be established in the territory prior to the legalization of marijuana in Nunavut, Redfern said NAM has passed several resolutions over the years, and did so again at its last meeting in Iqaluit in December, calling for an addictions treatment centre situated in the territory.
Also in December, the GN released its public survey on cannabis legalization, which showed 75 per cent support for legalization among the 1,418 survey respondents. On the question of who should distribute marijuana, 49 per cent said the GN should assume that role while 48 per cent favoured private companies. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents want marijuana to be sold online.
Sixty-four percent were satisfied with the federal possession limit of 30 grams of cannabis while one quarter of people preferred a lesser amount.