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Cannabis in NWT will be sold exclusively through liquor stores and the mail for at least six months, after which time the minister of finance will decide whether to give any private pot shops the green light.

In a late-game change to the cannabis bill on Thursday, Northwest Territories legislators decided the government should, within six months, come up with criteria the finance minister can use to determine whether a proposed cannabis store is “in the public interest.”

The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act gives the minister of finance “seemingly the broadest discretion available under the law” to determine who gets to sell legal cannabis in the territory, said R.J. Simpson, the MLA for Hay River North.

While Thursday’s amendment does little to rein in the minister’s discretionary power, it does allow retailers to know how their cannabis business applications will be judged, said Simpson.

A committee of regular MLAs, seen in Yellowknife last month, consulted with residents in 16 communities ahead of debate on the territory’s cannabis bill.

Louis Sebert, the minister of justice, called the cannabis law, which passed on Friday, a “compromise.”

“This is not a perfect bill,” said Sebert. “But I think it is a good bill.”

The question of whether to allow private cannabis sales remained a sticking point throughout the law’s development.

A joint committee (no pun intended) of regular MLAs recommended against selling cannabis in liquor stores, but cabinet refused to deviate from this plan.

Some regular MLAs were not convinced the amendment would guarantee a private pot market in six months – or ever.

This government is trying to bamboozle members so that they don’t really see what is going on,” said Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson, who has been a proponent of cannabis-only shops in small communities that don’t have liquor stores.

“What is really going on is that this government’s motion leaves all the power in the hands of the minister to grant vendor licences to liquor stores only.”

The liquor commission will oversee cannabis sales, though it is unclear right now who will supply cannabis to the NWT.

Robert C. McLeod, the minister of finance, said the government is in talks with at least two potential suppliers about cannabis procurement.

The retail price is similarly hazy.

Smoking in cars with kids scorned

Smokers traveling with young people may soon have to butt out before they buckle up.

MLAs voted unanimously in favour of a motion last week that recommends prohibiting smoking in a vehicle when a minor is present.

Cory Vanthuyne, who brought the motion, said smoking in vehicles with minors is banned in at least eight other provinces and territories and in a number of U.S. states.

“We know that second-hand smoke is dangerous,” the Yellowknife North MLA said on May 29.

“Children who breathe second-hand smoke can develop cancer later in life, even if they never take up smoking.”

TheYellowknife North MLA acknowledged the ban would be difficult to enforce but said similar rules, such as those requiring seat belts and prohibiting cellphone use while driving, do work to shape public behaviour over time.

Glen Abernethy, the minister of Health and Social Services, said the government is committed to changing the Tobacco Control Act to ban smoking in vehicles with minors before the next territorial election.

Residents petition for treatment centre

The Northwest Territories has an addictions and mental health “crisis” on its hands and it doesn’t have the services to deal with it, says the MLA for Kam Lake.

“Northerners seeking wellness for themselves and their families need more than residential treatment options but aftercare and detoxing services available in their communities,” Kieron Testart told the legislative assembly last week.

On May 29, Testart submitted a petition with 320 signatures calling for an addictions treatment centre in Yellowknife.

Testart conceded that a bricks-and-mortar treatment centre may not be feasible right now but asked whether the old Stanton hospital building would accommodate new detox beds or aftercare programs once the new hospital opens.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy said there are no plans for detox beds at the old Stanton site, which will be used as a continuing care facility.

He said the new hospital building will have additional beds that could be used for medical detox.

The government is working with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation on an Indigenous wellness centre at the Stanton campus, added Abernethy. It is also developing an addictions action plan.

Patients returning from a treatment centre to their home communities are required to have an aftercare plan in their region, he noted, but acknowledged that gaps exist and addictions services could be improved.

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