MLAs, liquor commission have different ideas about what's required to sell cannabis

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MLAs have been told liquor stores need two entrances in order to sell the drug.

With a cannabis legalization only months away, some N.W.T. MLAs and regulators are saying different things about what will be required for liquor stores in the territory to sell the drug.

Over the past 11 days, MLAs travelled to 16 communities to get feedback on the territorial government's proposed Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act, or Bill 6.

But instead of people voicing their opinions about the regulations, they asked more questions. 

"We were doing more information sharing than receiving comments on the bill itself because people just didn't have the information available to them," said Kieron Testart, MLA for Kam Lake, who also heads the committee in charge of the consultations. 

Some of the discrepancies lay between MLAs and the agency that will oversee the drug's roll-out in liquor stores across the territory.  

"What we've been told by the minister who is sponsoring the bill — Minister [Lou] Sebert — is that there will be two entrances for cannabis stores," he said. "And that's been provided to us in technical briefings around this issue of cannabis."

The reasoning behind this is to separate alcohol purchases from cannabis purchases. 

Kieron Testart, MLA for Kam Lake and the chair of the committee leading the cannabis consultations, at a cannabis meeting in Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

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But the N.W.T. Liquor Commission, the agency responsible for overseeing cannabis sales, says that isn't true. 

"There is no requirement in Bill 6 for liquor stores to have two entrances to sell cannabis," said Todd Sasaki, communications officer for the Department of Finance, which oversees the liquor commission.

"Under the proposed legislation, any required renovations are anticipated to be minor."

This information concerns Testart. 

"This issue of how many doors is an important one and it's troubling to hear that the body that's regulating the retail system seems to have a different idea of how it's going to work than the minister that is sponsoring the bill," he said.

Sasaki also says all liquor stores in the territory are interested in selling cannabis, and that costs for renovations will be funded by the liquor revolving fund.

'A lot ... that's not really clear'

Jim McDonald, mayor of Inuvik, was one of many leaders who attended the cannabis consultations.

He says town council and community members are still confused about the proposed bill and how legal cannabis will be sold in the territory. 

"I think at this stage we are just trying to, from a council perspective, get a better understanding of what a proposed legislation means to us," he said.

McDonald says he's concerned both the town and the territorial government don't have the resources to uphold some of the proposed regulations, especially when it comes to enforcing them. 

Town council had been waiting to get more information on the bill before holding their own meeting, which McDonald hopes to put on soon.

Cannabis in liquor stores won't last: Testart

Testart says during the consultation tour, he heard from many residents who don't want cannabis to be sold in liquor stores in the first place.

"We've heard it everywhere from Deline to Ulukhaktok that we want a cannabis store here that the community can control with their resources, so the revenues can go back to the community and we can provide education," he said.

"I expect regular MLAs are going to be pushing vigorously for the legislation to change to cannabis-only stores in the Northwest Territories once the legalization day happens."

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