EDITORIAL: Legalization: another tool in the colonial playbook

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From enforcement to education, one thing is for certain – the communities of the territory know what they do and do not want when it comes to cannabis legislation – and they are willing to fight for it.Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart said one thing was very clear coming away from all the consultations, “that no matter the size of the community, people want local cannabis stores.”

He then listed off communities that were particularly outspoken, such as Ulukhaktok, Tuktoyaktuk, Fort McPherson and Behchoko. Testart also noted that even Deline – which doesn’t allow alcohol – was vocal with visiting committees of MLAs about having stores in the community.

“People want local cannabis stores that are operated by the Indigenous government at the community level,” said Testart.

The government brain trust has decided instead to use liquor stores as the purchase point for cannabis in the territory, which will also handle mail-orders to communities for the 27 out of 33 of them that don’t have stores.

This makes sense if one has faith that the NWT Liquor Commission will be able to control what most assuredly is a porous, entirely unmanageable cannabis market that cares little about what the GNWT says or does about it.

Mail-order cannabis, which can be obtained from any number of online vendors, has already made so many inroads into communities that any attempt to control it would be like playing a game of whack-a-mole armed with a wet noodle.

And not to appear too self-interested, the liquor commission is an institution so archaic it continues to blindly insist on forbidding liquor ads in newspapers while a super highway of satellite, cable television and Internet advertisements stream into people’s homes and onto their phones with every conceivable liquor product known to humankind.

We fail to see how it will be able to regulate a market with zero cross-boundary enforcement – thanks to an indifferent Canada Post, which gave up trying to stop cannabis orders the day Justin Trudeau became prime minister. Or, compete with anonymous and discreet vendors not selling “government weed.”

If the goal is to prevent the rampant availability of illicit cannabis in communities, it makes sense that the communities themselves have control over its sale.

Let designated people in communities grow it and sell it. This will not eradicate outside mail orders but is bound to be more palatable to the people who partake.

Premier Bob McLeod waltzed into a burning barn last year with his “red alert” statement accusing the feds of hoisting more of the same-old colonialism onto the NWT. He soon realized the same accusation can be levelled at the GNWT, and it was.

By insisting on a liquor store and mail-order model that encourages, rather than discourages illicit cannabis sales, while closing the door on local, Indigenous would-be entrepreneurs, the GNWT is giving people another reason to affix it with the colonial label.

If cannabis is about to be legalized it needs to not only be decriminalized but also privatized and put into the hands of the people.