As the prospect of legal marijuana looms ever nearer, the territorial government is weighing options on how to regulate a brand new market – and the public has a lot to say about it.
As of Sept. 13, 1,111 people took a GNWT survey on marijuana that gauges how the public feels the drug should be legalized. This is according to Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister for the Department of Justice, who was speaking to a room of more than 100 people who came out to voice their opinions in person at the Explorer Hotel, Sept. 14.
The options being considered could make up any combination of three models – a liquor-store model that would create specific outlets where marijuana is sold; a tobacco model – where businesses could apply for licences to sell the product; and a mail-order/Internet sales model, where people would buy their weed online.
Overwhelmingly, at the meeting at least, people who showed up supported some sort of private-sector involvement. This doesn’t surprise Yellowknifer.
The private sector will be able to handle sales more efficiently than the public sector. Private retailers will respond to market demands and will be better equipped to keep prices lower than the black market.
There are safety concerns to take into account. Keeping marijuana – especially the edible kind that can be packaged to look like candy – out of the hands of children is one of those concerns. Yellowknifer is confident the GNWT will be able to draft regulations that protect children while allowing the private sector to cash in.
And cash in it certainly will. There is a gigantic financial opportunity here. If the government creates so many regulations that the private sector can’t or doesn’t want to get involved – by going with the mail-order only option, for example – the government runs the risk of snuffing out a fledgling market before it has the chance to grow and allowing an illegal black market to continue when people can’t wait to get their marijuana in the mail.
In the legislative assembly last week, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart echoed these concerns during question period with the Justice Minister Louis Sebert. While the minister wasn’t able to say exactly what demand might be in the territory, he did say it “might be considerable.”
In response, Testart urged the minister to “let Northern entrepreneurs take the lead on this file.”
Yellowknifer agrees with Testart – marijuana legalization is going to come with a lot of hard work and planning on the government’s side but it’s also a huge opportunity for Northern businesses to cash in on a whole new market while putting unregulated pot dealers out of business.
The GNWT needs to keep this in mind when drafting regulations.
The road to economic prosperity
The economic health of the Northwest Territories is intrinsically linked to the amount of precious stones mines pull out of the ground.
Mining and oil and gas extraction counted for roughly one-quarter of the territory’s GDP in 2016, and considering there was no oil and gas extraction in the territory that year – and the only operating mines in the NWT are producing diamonds – it’s fair to say an entire quarter of the GDP is diamond driven.
So if the federal government were to invest in any transportation project, the Slave Geological Province Access Corridor would make the most sense. Putting in an all-weather road to the diamond mines will make it that much cheaper to truck supplies in and out, year-round. That should make it more financially viable for existing mines to either expand or push back closing dates, and encourage more exploration in the area, including other minerals.
The revenue generated from these mines can be spread across the territory.
If the feds want to invest in a project that will give back to the territory, the road to the mines is the way to go.