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GNWT lays out plans for legal pot sales

A gram of legal weed in NWT will cost between $8.21 and $14.55, depending on the strain.

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo
David Stewart, deputy minister of Finance, Robert McLeod, minister of Finance, and Sandy Kalgutkar, deputy secretary to the Financial Management Board, brief the media on the territory's plan for cannabis on Wednesday, one week before legalization on Oct. 17.

At a public briefing on the GNWT's plan for pot sales and distribution on Wednesday, MLAs heard that the territorial government has set prices for about 100 different cannabis products, including blends with such whimsical names as Chocolope, Alien Dawg and Grand Daddy Purps.

With exactly one week to go before the 95-year prohibition on cannabis is lifted, the Department of Finance released details about where pot will be sold, how much it will cost, and which companies have been tapped as suppliers.

For at least six months, cannabis will be sold exclusively at liquor stores and online through the recently renamed Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

Eventually, prospective retailers will be able to apply to for a cannabis licence through the liquor and cannabis commission. The minister of Finance will have the final say on who can set up a private pot shop.

On Oct. 17 though, cannabis will be available for purchase at the uptown Liquor Shop in Yellowknife and at liquor stores in Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells.

The liquor store owner in Inuvik has declined to sell cannabis, so residents in that community will have to buy their bud through the liquor and cannabis commission's online store. The GNWT plans to start looking for an alternative cannabis retailer in Inuvik this winter.

At the outset, NWT shelves will be stocked with cannabis from three suppliers: Aurora, Canopy Growth and High Park, a subsidiary of Tilray.

However, warned David Stewart, deputy minister of Finance, supply is expected to dwindle not long after legalization.

“We're hearing reports of that from across Canada,” he said. “We will be working with other suppliers in addition to these three large companies to try to make sure that we have enough supply to keep things moving along.”

Cannabis will be sold in bud, whole flower, dried flower, milled flower, oil, seed, and pre-rolled form. Edible cannabis products will not be sold in Canada for at least a year.

Liquor stores will also carry cannabis-smoking accessories and will be allowed to sell magazines, t-shirts, posters, snacks and other marijuana-related items.

“We'd never underestimate the creativity of the retail sector to come up with other ways that they may be able to meet some demand,” said Stewart.

Cannabis will typically come in one gram, 3.5 gram and seven gram packages.

A customer will be able to buy up to 30 grams at one time, which is the legal amount a person 19 years of age and older is allowed to carry in public.

The GNWT believes that starting the price per gram at $8.21, GST included, will undercut or match the black market rate.

According to Statistics Canada data collected through reports from anonymous users, the current price per gram of cannabis in NWT is $9.58.

Residents in communities without a liquor store will inevitably pay more for their legal weed, as shipping costs apply to cannabis bought online.

They will also have fewer strains to choose from, with High Park products being the only ones for sale through the liquor and cannabis commission's online store.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

The THC levels in NWT cannabis will vary. Lower-end products range from 14 to 20 per cent THC, and premium blends run between 20 and 25 per cent.

The GNWT purchased about 30 kilograms of cannabis in preparation for Oct. 17, but officials could not confirm Wednesday how much was spent on the initial load.

Though the federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation recommended revenues from cannabis sales be used to fund cannabis education, research and enforcement, in NWT, those dollars will go into the government's general coffers.

“Sixty-five per cent of the budget of the Northwest Territories is social programs, so it's only fitting that this money would be used to help with that 65 per cent,” Robert McLeod, minister of Finance, said Wednesday during a media conference on cannabis.

Finance officials could not say how much the government has spent to date on preparing for legalization, but Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer, said the department of Health and Social Services put $125,000 over the last two years toward public awareness and education.

In developing its marijuana sales strategy, said Stewart, the Finance department operated on the assumption that 25 per cent of territorial residents smoke up.

“We did an estimate of approximately one joint a day, for lack of a better term,” he said.

“That would be approximately 1,000 kilograms of cannabis over a year,” he added, give or take 500 kilograms.

It's difficult to project how much cash the GNWT will bring in until the legal weed market opens up and stabilizes, said Stewart.

He guessed revenue in the first year will be in the ballpark of $2-million.