By July of next year, the federal government will legalize marijuana, making good on a promise that proved popular among many parts of the electorate during the 2015 election campaign.

The Liberal government’s aim is to take pressure off the criminal justice system, regulate cannabis sales, restrict access to the substance and tighten laws around impaired driving.

Meanwhile, provinces and territories including the NWT are working to come up with their own laws.

They’ll have the power to increase the minimum age of access in their jurisdictions above 18 years old and reduce possession limits.

They’ll also be able to restrict where cannabis is used and set rules around growing marijuana at home.

While the debate about whether or not to legalize cannabis is over, Inuvik residents still hold wide-ranging opinions on the pros and cons of that decision.

That much was clear at a public engagement meeting the GNWT hosted at the Mackenzie Hotel on Sept. 11.

While some people worried about the effects of marijuana on young brains, others felt the substance is less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes.

When it comes to law enforcement, some people want to see a zero-tolerance attitude toward impaired driving, while people on the other side of the debate argued marijuana affects everyone differently.

Yet, despite the strong views, many people at the public engagement session were hesitant to speak openly about the subject with media that attended the meeting.

 

It’s clear the subject is still taboo. And their position is understandable.

People are worried about the stigma attached to marijuana or how discussing the issue may affect their jobs.

There’s also the fact that recreational cannabis isn’t legal just yet.

But with new laws just around the corner, open and frank discussions on the subject are important.

We need strong education and accurate information about marijuana so people can make decisions that are best for their own health and safety, and so policy-makers can make decisions that are best for society.

We need to talk openly with young people about the effects of cannabis so they can make informed choices when they’re faced with the opportunity to try it.

Instilling fear will only keep them from asking the questions they need to ask to be informed.

According to information provided by the GNWT, the Government of Canada has already started public education and awareness campaigns on the topic.

In their latest budget, the feds proposed to spend $9.6 million educating the public about cannabis.

Whether people agree or not, marijuana is going to be legal by next summer.

We should continue fostering safe spaces to discuss the issue now, to quell misinformation and stigmatization when it does roll out.