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The issue: private pot shops
We say: why the delay?

The slow roll out of legal cannabis in the NWT has been nothing short of a bummer for many.

In April 2017, the Government of Canada introduced the proposed Cannabis Act and promised to legalize cannabis by summer 2018. That proved to be a heavy lift for many provinces and territories who – clutching their collective pearls over the arrival of legal demon weed – started to tie up the long-awaited end of pot prohibition in red tape.

Throughout the summer of 2017, the GNWT invited public and ‘stakeholders’ – including community and Indigenous governments – to provide feedback on how the sale and regulation of cannabis would work. The meetings and online submissions were full and plentiful, with folks offering opinions on everything from marketing, to pricing and, points of sale.

There was intense interest in when private cannabis outlets would be permitted. And there was much smoke thrown up over that issue.

In the end, and to this day, you can only buy legal cannabis in the NWT from Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NTLCC)-approved vendors or from the NTLCC online store.

Eliminating the illegal market was stated as a primary focus of federal cannabis legalization. Providing a safe and regulated product to those of legal age and diverting all that weed-buying green cash into government coffers was at top of mind for lawmakers.

The GNWT’s objective to safely and securely provide access to what is a legal, but controlled, substance led to it defying a federal task force that recommended liquor and cannabis sales not be in the same store. The five outlets in the 33-community NWT where you can now see and buy cannabis are: Yellowknife Liquor Shop; Fort Simpson Beverages; Fort Smith Liquor Store; Hay River Liquor Retailers; and the liquor outlet in Norman Wells.

“The GNWT recognizes that there is a strong interest in taking advantage of the business opportunities associated to the legalization of cannabis,” stated a 2018 GNWT news release. “There will be nothing in the legislation that prevents the future sale of cannabis in ‘cannabis only’ stores.”

That, stated the GNWT, would happen once there is “actual data relating to sales and volumes.”

Alas, a lot of that data was skewed as supply chain issues thwarted early sales, with frustrated consumers complaining about both about the selection and pricing of legal weed.

The lack of trained and informed staff at the city’s only legal outlet remains an issue to this day, as it can be hit or miss as to whether your questions on the various strains and products – leaf, pre-rolled, oils – will be answered with authority.

On April 17, the GNWT issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for potential private pot vendors. It attracted dozens of interested parties. Applicants had to submit financial documents and personal information about those involved in the bid, including RCMP criminal record checks.

One of those applicants was ReLeaf NT, a cannabis accessories shop that has opened a storefront downtown.

Earlier this month, ReLeaf learned its (RFQ) submission was successful.

“We’re happy. We’re just waiting for the second phase,” said Luke Wood, co-owner of ReLeaf NT. “I think sometime in the new year we’ll know (about the next step). They sent us an email saying, ‘Congratulations you’ve successfully passed the first phase and we’ll be in touch about the Request for Proposals’, but they didn’t give us a timeline.”

As they filled out the 700-page RFQ, Wood and business partner John Maduke were also opening their accessories store, selling pipes, fans, LED lights, nutrients and other items. They had hoped to eventually sell cannabis products by the end of the year.

That won’t happen. And the longer ReLeaf NT has to wait, the higher the chances are the business could fail waiting for the GNWT’s bureaucracy to make the next move.

Yellowknifer hopes the GNWT won’t drive this business out of business. It’s clear people choosing to consume cannabis need a specialty shop in order to learn about what they are purchasing and find the safest and most satisfying way to get high.

If the GNWT drags it’s feet, the overarching philosophy of legalization – to remove it from the hands of organized crime and the black market – will be defeated, with many people still choosing to use their long-time drug dealer.

There has been no societal breakdown since weed has been legalized. It’s high time the GNWT meets the demand and stop turning it over to the black market.

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