Weekend Yellowknifer editorial: cannabis comedown

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When the city’s only legal cannabis outlet was out of weed for a week recently, it shone a grow light on the problems and missed opportunities that have plagued NWT’s new green day since cannabis was legalized here in October 2018.

It was thought the GNWT had secured a stable supply of pot, as the shelves at the uptown Liquor Store have blossomed with legal bud for the past year. However, certain popular products have often sold out before new shipments arrived.

The unsteady supply – which has been a nationwide issue since the Trudeau government rushed to keep a 2015 campaign promise – also turned out to be a bummer for the GNWT’s treasury. The Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission reported last fall revenue from cannabis was just over $1.3 million – a shortfall of more than 80 per cent from the $5 million in revenue originally budgeted for.

Also, a lot of people still don’t want to be seen picking up some pot along with their wine, as a societal stigma remains around cannabis.

The GNWT continues to tease potential private cannabis retailers with promises of issuing licences for months and months. It can be hit or miss at the Liquor Store as to whether your questions on the various strains and products – leaf, pre-rolled, oils – will be answered with authority. Having the pot sales alongside liquor retailing also defies a federal task force that recommended liquor and cannabis sales not be in the same store.

In December, the GNWT informed ReLeaf NT, a Yellowknife cannabis accessories shop, that its Request for Qualifications (RFQ) submission was successful. However, officials have been hesitant to take the next step.

The issue was raised this week in the NWT Legislative Assembly by Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson. He grilled Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek over both the delay in authorizing private retailers and the recent cannabis outage in the city.

Wawzonek responded that following the RFQ, another step called a request for proposals (RFP) was due out in January. 

“I acknowledge that it’s now not January,” Wawzonek said on Monday. “I am assured that it will be complete and that that will public this month. I will certainly ensure that I am doing my best to follow up on that date.”

This is simply unacceptable. It’s another sad example of “can’t do” government. There is a bumper crop of bureaucrats to study problems and policy, but they just can’t make the legal cannabis marketplace work. Why is that? 

As for the recent crack in the procurement process, Wawzonek said the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission is “tasked with identifying new suppliers, where they’re available.”

Why not think outside that bureaucratic box? One year ago, several Yellowknife city councillors praised a proposed cannabis production facility in the Engle business district. Developer Jordan Harker said the facility – which would require city zoning and be regulated by the federal government  would produce competitively priced products and would create roughly 12 full-time jobs and 20 to 25 part-time positions.

The last Yellowknifer heard about this proposal, was that Harker would be seeking approval from Health Canada to get the proposed facility operational.

Having a supply of locally grown cannabis – the possible names are plentiful: Arctic Bud, Northern High or maybe even Polar Buzz – would not only help bolster our local supply, but allow entrepreneurs to grab a piece of the national pot pie.

The whole point behind legalizing cannabis was to take it out of the hands of organized crime and to ensure a safe and regulated product to those of legal age and divert weed-buying green cash into government coffers.

The only people benefiting from all this red tape are the drug dealers and online black market – the very people who were supposed to disappear with the legalization of cannabis.

 

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