This is page numbers 4059 - 4102 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was cannabis.

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Michael Nadli Deh Cho

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, I, too, would like to share my thoughts on this report that's been tabled in the House, the Cannabis Legalization Regulation and Implementation Act, or Bill 6, which is the effort of this government to legalize marijuana or cannabis. I think we all understood that the draft legislation that we were given was the result of the federal initiative to legalize marijuana at the national level.

Going forward, the understanding that we had, for myself, was that the federal government had initiated this whole process, and we're basically following suit as the territorial government for the Northwest Territories. So, in that exercise, our task was to review the draft legislation, or Bill 6, and consult with the public, which meant that we travelled extensively. I travelled with my colleagues who travelled to the southern communities, and was chaired by my colleague Mr. Shane Thompson. The communities that we travelled into were a majority Indigenous people. Of course, we are challenged with the high rates of social issues, as well, whether it be crime rates or alcohol-related charges or offences, and, of course, we had a mixture of modern and traditional values that continue throughout our communities in the NWT.

I serve four communities, and those four communities are mostly situated on the highway system. We have access to one liquor store. One of my communities that I serve has a prohibition in place, which means that there is no alcohol allowed in the community. The leaders in that community explained why, why they put a place of prohibition in their community. They spoke very clearly and passionately because they care for their people. The young people who were in the audience, and the young people were saying that, well, this is 2018, and that the use of cannabis and marijuana is widely accepted. It is a matter of time that it is going to come into our communities.

The reality is that we already have cannabis and marijuana. It is used in our communities already. The stage was set for us to go into those communities, consult with people, hear people, and, in some instances, it was very passionate. In some instances, we didn't have the interest of people coming out to our meetings. As a result of that, we have this report that we tabled in the House, those recommendations. Key recommendations that are in response to the draft legislation before us, and those key recommendations basically talk about improvements, how this committee feels that we have reflected upon the opinions that we have heard, and the concerns that we have heard from people.

I look forward to those discussions and debate that will likely happen within the House in the next couple of days. Mahsi.

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Mr. Nadli. Anyone further for opening comments? Mr. Blake.

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May 30th, 2018

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Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Like many of the Members, it was great to visit the communities and hear the communities' concerns on the bill. For many of the communities that we visited, the residents, this is the first time they heard that legalization was going to be pushed forward for July 1st, was the date we are given, possibly as early as June 21st, but the date we were given was July 1st.

Many residents were asking us, why are you forcing this upon us, like it was committee that was bringing this forward, and we had to make it quite clear that this is a direction that was given to the Department of Justice from the federal government, and the federal government should have taken some onus on this as well. Gone out to the communities, done some sort of public consultation. I know it was an election promise, but this is a huge step to undertake and then just to pass it on to the provinces and territories to see it through, and without adequate resources, as mentioned by my colleagues here.

There are a lot of unanswered questions that, most likely, we are going to be the ones who are going to have to pay for things. Some of the things that were asked for were public consultation, like public awareness. Going into the communities, speaking to the youth, even going into the schools and speaking. What we heard was, what people want to see is more education for youth, whether it is taught in the schools or having someone hired like a youth coordinator to go around and educate young people on the effects of marijuana to their health.

As mentioned, marijuana could affect the brain up to the age of 25, and many of our residents felt that that should be the age where it becomes legal, is 25. Then again, on the other side, we will have the black market targeting that age group because that's pretty much the only way they are going to be able to make money, and there are also concerns out there already that people can mail order, whether it's shard or other drugs like this in the mail. It is happening today. That's what people want to see in our communities, more awareness; but then again, there is also a cost added to that. The federal government needs to ensure that they work with our government to make sure that we have adequate resources to fund this.

Some of the other things that we've heard was, because it was so new to the communities at the time, the communities that we visited, they were sort of leery of having a place in the community where they could purchase marijuana, whether it was some thought possibly in the Northern or the Co-op, or somebody might start up in the community. A good example is one of the communities that we visited which was actually in my riding, the community leader brought this concern forward. Since then, they have changed their mind after speaking with their council. With other drugs that are finding their way into the community, they feel that it actually might be safer to have a place in the community now.

The more the communities learn about this, maybe a little more willingness to have those changes in the communities. That's one thing that I mentioned, was, these are the early stages. We have one more month here before this is going to be legal, and over time, I'm sure we are going to see a lot of changes to this. Like most legislation, which is very hard to make changes to them, I'm hoping that this is not one of those cases, that it's a little easier to make changes to the legislation, because it's so early here. Those are just some of the concerns that we heard.

Some people are very open to it. We had some people in our meetings who wanted to start up their own business, and seeing that opportunity. In our briefings, what our Minister wanted to see, from what I took away from it, anyway, was it is better to wait to see actually what kind of revenue is going to be generated out of this. I could see that we don't want to see our small businesses set up to fail. We want to make sure it is adequate to provide this service.

I have mixed feelings myself about this, but like I mentioned, it's forced upon us here, so we are just here to deal with it. We had a lot of good conversations in the communities. We actually went until about nine o'clock in some cases here, a good four to five hours. A lot of questions, we were forced to answer as best as we could without making any commitments. All we could commit to was bringing these recommendations forward, and I look forward to seeing how everything works out here. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Mr. Blake. Next, Mr. Nakimayak.

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Herbert Nakimayak Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, I won't reiterate what my colleagues have said. I know both committees have done a lot of good, hard work in the southern part of the territory as well as the northern part. I was able to travel to the northern part.

Being from a small community, growing up, you definitely see the effects of alcohol as they become more prevalent in those communities and more accessible. With marijuana, I believe that this younger generation that lives in the smaller communities and all over, I guess, across the territory, are pretty much adapted to it, and I think education on behalf of elders and youth is important.

Giving Indigenous groups time and working with Indigenous groups in the territory is very key. Some of my colleagues mentioned research. Indigenous groups in specific regions can get very accurate results working with the health centres and with the Indigenous governments that work in the region to get better results and, as well, to make better discussions down the road. As well, there are economic opportunities for Indigenous groups. I hope that the federal government and the territorial government will actually work with Indigenous groups to sell and to ensure that is brought out as best as possible in our region specific to where we live.

Other than that, I don't have much to add to what my colleagues have said, more or less. As for age, I think 19 is an appropriate age in the territory. Some may agree; some may disagree; but this is what we have going on with alcohol. The black market, as some colleagues mentioned, is going to thrive, but some other things like that may fall through the cracks that we need to pay attention to.

With our enforcements, I know that, in smaller communities, the bylaws are ill-equipped to work with this, and I think we need to rely on the police force more and more. I think that's something we need to educate our youth and our hamlets and our community governments on.

As well, work with other governments. Mr. Chair, there are a lot of other governments that work in the territory, Indigenous governments that we need to take into account, as well, and look at the capacity there and help build that as well into the communities. That's all I have to say right now, Mr. Chair. Thanks.

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Mr. Nakimayak. Next, I have Mr. Beaulieu.

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Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I travelled with the southern group. I guess the main thing that I just want to touch on a bit would be the education or research aspect of cannabis.

We went to three schools. We talked to high school students in three different schools, as you know, Mr. Chair, and it appeared as though the students themselves were fairly up to speed on cannabis. It is very easy for students to do research, not like when we were in high school. We had to go through a lot of books in order to educate ourselves. Now students see a lot of things on the Internet, and it is easier for them to go to a link to learn about things like cannabis.

There still is a lot of education to be had and a lot of education that will come as a result of legalization because they will be able to do research. It is a lot easier to research a legal product than it is to try to accumulate research on illegal products. I think that is an important aspect of it.

I think that cannabis, marijuana, or whatever we wish to call it, is definitely in the communities. I am not sure that the legalization of cannabis will increase the usage. I am not talking about individual uses; I am talking about the number of people who choose to smoke cannabis. I am not sure it will increase. I guess we will wait and see what happens, but it appears as though the one thing that the students wanted was some education.

Now there is an opportunity for government or other organizations to research and study the effects of the usage of cannabis, and the different levels of usage, also. If there is chronic usage of anything, it's not good for you. Even with alcohol, some people have no issue with alcohol. Some people can go home and have a drink almost every day, or every day, and they're not affected by it, because that's what it is, a drink, and some people can't stop at one.

If marijuana is a product where individuals, I'm not necessarily talking about the population as a whole, but individuals, are unable to stop at one point, then they are going to be spending all of their money on that, and it could adversely affect the family unit, no question about it.

The other thing that we found that was interesting is the economy of it. The economy with the grow operations of it, and even the retail of marijuana. People don't have a really good sense of it, because, so far, all of the people making the money are making money illegally, so they're not reporting it.

At some point, when the reporting becomes mandatory that, in order to sell marijuana, you're going to have to get a licence, and once you sell marijuana, you're going to be taxed on it, by the amount of taxes paid out, it will indicate how much marijuana would work itself into the economy. I am not 100 per cent sure, but I know that there are countries that were in deep economic trouble, and then recognized that it appeared as though they should be in worse condition than they actually were, and the reason was because of the illegal trade of cannabis or marijuana or products from that, whether it be hash oil, butter, whatever you make out it, food that has cannabis in it, but that's kind of like an economy. It is capable of driving an economy.

In the NWT, we're not a huge population, but we don't really know how much it plays into the economy. We know that there is money in there, and there is money changing hands. We know that for sure. I think everybody knows that, but how much would be something that we are going to know. Probably a year after cannabis becomes legal, we are going to know how much it plays into the economy. I think, at that point, individuals would have more research and more information about exactly what the impacts would be, positive impacts on themselves as businesspeople, if they were to get into the retail or the growing of cannabis.

Also, on a personal note, just from my own history in the Northwest Territories, what I have seen was that marijuana was a pretty good product when you compare it with other types of products that are out there, and I am talking about alcohol. In my hometown, it was a pretty rough place when I was a young man growing up in Fort Resolution, and there was a lot of alcohol. There were a lot of issues. There were a lot of serious issues. There were a lot of deaths as a result of alcohol, and a lot of those people replaced the usage of alcohol with smoking pot. I would rather be hanging around a bunch of pot smokers than a bunch of drinkers any day. It is a lot safer. That is what I think people have seen in the community.

A lot of individuals are talking about the fear of mixing the two, and things like that. That doesn't really happen. You have a drinker. He's a drinker, and he's going to party. They are going to go to the bar. They are going to drink. They are going to drink at home, do whatever. It does become an unsafe situation. They do create unsafe situations. The North Slave Correctional is filled with people who have committed a crime while consuming alcohol or as a result of having consumed too much alcohol. The same with down in Hay River with the South Slave Correctional Centre.

Sometimes, when you really think about it, and if it displaces alcohol, then I think it could be a good substitute if people choose to pick up the pipe or whatever as opposed to drinking alcohol. Some people just can't handle alcohol, but most of the people who have been in trouble and things because of alcohol have smoked marijuana and are doing a lot better.

I think, when it becomes a legal product, this fear about how marijuana is going to be adding to the problem of alcohol I don't think is there, but you never know. We will find out in a year. My guess is that, if it displaces the amount of alcohol, maybe the alcohol sales will go down. Through the revolving fund, we will see that we are not recovering as much money in the revolving fund from alcohol as we would be from marijuana. Wait and see, I guess. I think that is all I have to say. I think I have said enough, actually, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Mr. Beaulieu. We will take a brief recess and reconvene in 15 minutes.

---SHORT RECESS

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

I now call Committee of the Whole back to order. We were hearing general comments on Committee Report 7-18(3), and we will continue with Mr. McNeely.

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Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. First of all, I would like to thank both committees for taking the time to go out on the road and listen to the concerns of leaders, youth, students, elders, and the general public on our cannabis tour. I was involved in the northern group, and it could be said that this society is being modernized to what is here already. As we heard from our previous colleagues' presentations, cannabis really exists in all 33 communities, and, because it's a federally imposed legislation, we are trying to craft this legislation to design the society and the cultures and the aspirations of the people we serve.

Right from the start, we were limited through lack of resources. The evidence of lack of resources really gave us the ability to only go to 16 communities of 33, so, having said that, it only shows that there were limitations right off the start. I think we can all agree that we are trying to serve the best interests of what is best for our communities and within the community, whether it's the elder, the middle-aged, the working class, the students, the teenagers, and the infants. Some of the things that we heard, I really cannot add more to what was already said other than we are entitled to our own opinions on this delicate situation, but some of the respected elders that I have talked to, on and off the committee tour, all agree that, yes, cannabis is here, and what we need is more resources for education.

As a government, we have employees. There is an impairment factor to consuming cannabis, and R and D research does not really dictate what that impairment level is, and some job sites currently support zero tolerance. Is that the zero tolerance of this government and the employees we have?

So those are my only few comments that I have, and I look forward to moving on and allowing us to make forward the adequate resources so that we can reach out to all 33 communities. Unfortunately, our resources only allowed us to visit one of the five communities that I represent. I am hoping that we would not determine ourselves that this is enough, we pass legislation, however it's going to turn out, but we have an action plan through the education of cannabis as a carry-forward for several years to minimize the impacts of cannabis on and off the job site and from our homes, from our communities. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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The Chair Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Mr. McNeely. Next on the list, we have Mr. Simpson.

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also travelled with the Members who travelled in the southern group. It was a very eye-opening experience, and we learned a lot.

This is a monumental undertaking, and I think that that really hit me as we were going to the communities. You only lift a prohibition on a substance less than once in a generation. I always like to strive for excellence in everything we do here, but with this being so important, it was very important to me that we get it right. Unfortunately, it looks like, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, "You legalize cannabis with the legislation you have, not the legislation you want." I think we could have done a much better job with this, and that was really borne out by our community visits.

A lot of what we heard wasn't contemplated by the legislation that was given to us. There was a strong desire in the communities for different methods of purchasing and selling cannabis that this bill just doesn't even consider and doesn't have the framework to undertake. There was a desire for licensed premises that this bill doesn't have the framework to undertake. If the department had gone out and done some more consultation the way the committee did, I think we could have gotten a much better bill, and this is something that we can use to learn in the future.

The highlights of the tour, I think, what I saw the most of was a desire for education. From the youth to the elders, people wanted to be educated about cannabis and its effects. I think, as other Members have commented, with it being legal now, we will be able to get some better education out there. When it's an illegal substance, I think the message is abstinence. "You abstain from this." I think, now that it is legal, there will be more of a focus on getting legitimate information out from a harm reduction perspective.

Education was one of the highlights. The other one was the desire to use this opportunity to create a legitimate economy, especially in places where there is not much of an economy. We heard that especially from young people, and that is really what hit me. There are young people in these communities who want to stay in the community and want some sort of a reason to stay, economically. Like I said, the legislation doesn't contemplate that.

This also highlighted to me some existing inadequacies of our system, especially in terms of mental healthcare and addictions treatment. I do appreciate what the government does when it comes to addictions treatment. One of the committees toured the treatment facilities in the south that the GNWT has contracts with, and I think they are fantastic and they do a great job, but there still is a desire for northern culturally-appropriate treatment options.

People were very concerned about abusing cannabis and abusing alcohol, and they are often lumped together, but I think that the issue isn't treating the addiction. The way I see it is: why do people feel like they need to get high or get drunk? Why do people need to feel like they need to get out of their head? There is something underlying that. Drugs aren't the problem; they are a symptom of a problem. In every community we went to, there was a sense that treating that underlying problem isn't easily done, because there aren't the resources for it.

I hope that this isn't just legalized and forgotten about. I hope that we remember that and use it as a chance to really put a focus on mental health. We talk a lot about infrastructure, but we have to focus on our human infrastructure as well, I think. Those are my takeaways from it, and I just wanted to make those points before we get into the details. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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The Chair Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Next on the list, we have Ms. Green, then Mr. Vanthuyne. Ms. Green.

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, this prohibition could have ended in one of two ways: the government could simply have walked away from the prohibition and allowed the situation to be unregulated; and the other possibility was to go for maximum regulation. To no one's surprise, both the federal and the territorial governments have gone for maximum regulation, so that we are looking at a system where cannabis is regulated to the maximum extent of alcohol and tobacco jointly. Now people are worried about how there will be resources in place to make all of these regulations stick, and that is a valid question: how are all those regulations going to stick?

What struck me most about the tour was the generational divide. Students wondered why we were there. They consume cannabis, not necessarily chronically, but occasionally. They would appreciate a safe supply, which they won't have access to as minors. They could not see what all the fuss was about. The elders were very frightened about the prospect of legalization because they recall the legalization of alcohol. They have seen the devastation that that has done to their communities, and they are concerned that this devastation will be repeated by cannabis. Then we interacted with parents who were very scared for their children. They are concerned that they will become chronic users and that they will suffer poor health effects, poor outcomes as a result of being chronic users.

One of the other ironies we experienced was that people who were in favour of prohibition were also in favour of profiting from this product. That is a very, as I say, ironic situation, where people, even in the smallest communities, were interested in having cannabis stores. Their argument was that there is an economy there now, so they might as well make it a legal economy and benefit from it in order that those profits may be turned to treatment.

What is clear is that, if we go with the liquor commission system, which I know the government is promoting, then I don't think that we have much hope of disrupting the illegal market in the small communities. I think the dealers who are there now will be there afterwards, and they will continue to sell to whoever their customers are now. I don't know whether that is good or bad, but I think that that is just going to be the reality of it.

I don't agree with the government's attempts to try to regulate the market rather than having the market regulate itself. The Minister said to us the other day that there would be a cannabis store on every corner, like a coffee shop. Well, we don't have coffee shops on every corner. We're not going to have cannabis stores on every corner. The market will regulate itself. If there is no business case for all of these cannabis stores, there won't be a whole bunch of cannabis stores.

Where I came to on this whole bill was the importance of harm reduction, particularly for youth. Youth are vulnerable in this situation, obviously. They are currently at the mercy of dealers who might be selling them contaminated products that do them much more harm than they ever anticipated. I think that we have done a poor job generally of educating youth about illegal substances. I understand that they are illegal, but I think the fact is that many youth do use cannabis and alcohol without any acknowledgement of what the risks are, and that is an area that we really need to pay attention to.

The report tries to roll all of these different issues together, and I really appreciate the staff support we have received to digest the many hearings, written submissions, and other ways that people have told us what they think we should be doing with this legislation.

I appreciate the diligence of my colleagues in going to all of the different communities that we went to, I was with the south group, and to sit and listen until the last person was finished telling us what they think. Some of those communities I haven't seen in 10 years, and I was really struck by how little has changed in them in 10 years, which is good or bad, depending on your point of view. In any case, I appreciate the efforts that people made to reach out to us and tell us what they think of this legislation. I look forward to the discussion about the rest of the report today. Thank you.

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The Chair R.J. Simpson

Thank you, Ms. Green. Mr. Vanthuyne.