This is page numbers 4315 - 4334 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.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Glen Abernethy, Mr. Beaulieu, Mr. Blake, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Julie Green, Hon. Jackson Lafferty, Hon. Bob McLeod, Hon. Robert McLeod, Mr. McNeely, Hon. Alfred Moses, Mr. Nadli, Mr. Nakimayak, Mr. O'Reilly, Hon. Wally Schumann, Hon. Louis Sebert, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Testart, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Vanthuyne

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 4315

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Good afternoon, Members. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 100-18(3): Cannabis Public Education and Awareness Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4315

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as most NWT residents are probably aware, as of today, the consumption of cannabis is legal across Canada.

---Applause

Interesting spot for a clap. Our government committed in our mandate to create the policy, program, and legislative regimes necessary to support legalization, and with that comes a firm commitment to public education and awareness.

Public education and awareness efforts are well under way across the Northwest Territories. The Department of Health and Social Services has been working in partnership with other GNWT departments and agencies and the federal government to make sure that NWT residents have the important evidence-based information that they need about the health, social, and legal aspects of cannabis use they need to make informed decisions. Mr. Speaker, we have taken a harm reduction approach that builds off Canada's Lower Risk Guidelines for Cannabis Use, developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Using this harm reduction approach, our government has made it a priority to make sure that residents are aware of the significant risks of cannabis use on brain development and other health issues, and its potential effects on children, youth, pregnant and nursing women, and people with mental health issues.

As a government, we have been working diligently since August 2016 to ensure public education materials were developed to meet the needs of our residents and help them prepare for legalization of cannabis. This included new web content, direct mail to all households and businesses in the Northwest Territories, parent talk kits, traditional and social media advertising, radio and web content in all NWT Indigenous languages, as well as school based education events. The campaign has included informational videos, materials for teachers and students in schools, community surveys, and the identification of community champions to help provide messaging to residents. Cannabis education and resources are also being provided at the community health fairs which are held throughout the Northwest Territories.

Recently, our campaign included hosting Dr. Matthew Hill, a neurologist from the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute. Through a series of in-person and online streaming events, Dr. Hill was able to field questions from youth, teachers, parents and caregivers, and health professionals about health considerations related to cannabis use, especially where it relates to brain health. We had over 125 NWT residents tune in to a live Facebook chat with the neurologist. Approximately 200 high school students here in Yellowknife as well as 30 classrooms across the territory benefited from a live question and answer sessions with Dr. Hill.

Making sure that our health professionals have access to the information that they need to do their jobs now that cannabis is legal has also been a focus area for the Department of Health and Social Services. Approximately 60 health professionals from around the territories participated in a special session focused on the latest research pertaining to the effects of cannabis use on mental health, and specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder. This was the second cannabis health expert we have brought to the territory to present on public health evidence related to cannabis use and to directly answer Northerners' questions about cannabis and their health.

Mr. Speaker, we understand that many NWT residents have concerns related to the legalization of cannabis and its potential impacts on individuals and communities. These concerns are not baseless, and it is our responsibility to provide messaging and materials that are culturally relevant, are tailored to our NWT population, and are understood by residents so that they can make informed decisions about cannabis use. For youth under 25, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those experiencing mental health issues, there are very real health concerns. The legalization of cannabis opens up new opportunities for honest, straightforward conversations with NWT residents about the known health considerations for those who use cannabis. These conversations weren't always happening prior to legalization, when cannabis was still readily available on the black market and widely used throughout our territories. We welcome this opportunity for frank dialogue.

Mr. Speaker, now that cannabis is legal, the effort of our government to provide information and education sessions to our residents doesn't stop; more sessions are in the works. Our presentations on cannabis health information at community living fairs will continue. These fairs offer a very personal and direct way to communicate with NWT residents living in our smallest communities about health issues that are important to them. We will also have the presence at festivals and sporting events and other places where people gather and cannabis is likely to be consumed.

New and engaging cannabis health education materials are also under development and will be rolled out over the coming weeks. We have invested significant time and energy developing and pilot-testing these materials and engaging uniquely northern voices in the communication of key health messages.

As our public education campaign continues, we will be partnering with the federal government to expand cannabis public education efforts in Northwest Territories communities. This will include community and school activities, visual and social media content in all NWT official languages, as well as community resources.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to the health information our government is sharing about cannabis, the federal government is active on this issue, as well. Their cannabis public education efforts include social media, paid advertising, and promotional materials, all of which are helping to provide important information to residents in our territories and throughout Canada. We are working alongside our federal counterparts to ensure consistency in our messaging and to ensure we complement rather than overlap in our efforts.

Mr. Speaker, we have made a long-term commitment to ensuring that our residents have the most up-to-date information on cannabis so that they can make informed decisions about its use. We know from our extensive consultations with youth from across the territory that they want health information delivered in a manner that is interactive, builds on the knowledge and experience they already have, and is creative. These expressed needs shaped our cannabis public education plan and will continue to inform our public awareness and education efforts as a government going forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 100-18(3): Cannabis Public Education and Awareness Update
Ministers' Statements

Page 4316

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Minister of Justice.

Minister's Statement 101-18(3): The Important Contribution of Community Justice Committees
Ministers' Statements

Page 4316

Louis Sebert Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, our government has committed in its mandate to pursue innovative ways to prevent and reduce crime. Our experience has shown that it is not possible to administer a system of justice exactly the same way throughout our territory. Each community is different, with their own unique set of priorities and their own way of addressing local justice needs. Our government provides training and funding for all communities to hire justice coordinators, support community justice committees, and develop culturally relevant crime prevention programs.

Community justice committees, comprised of volunteers from the community, help to develop alternatives to the criminal justice system in their home community. Community justice coordinators are key liaisons between community members, the RCMP, local supports and services, and offenders.

What our community justice supports and programs help our justice system take into account is that people who commit crimes have homes and families. Almost all of them eventually come back to their communities. With the right training and support from our government, local community justice committees can be part of the planning for an offender's safe return. This work is not always easy. Offenders need to know what supports are available to help them with their release plan, and community members need to know about how offenders have committed to addressing the problems that led to the crime, when they get home. Community justice coordinators and committees can help an offender develop a plan and follow it.

Offences that get referred to a community justice committee are addressed through a restorative model of justice. As more matters are diverted to the restorative process, fewer people are charged with crimes and therefore are not ending up in the corrections system. The RCMP is an important partner in the successful use of the community justice approach in our communities. When police and victims gain trust in their community's restorative approach, the number of referrals to the community justice committee increases. Restorative approaches respect the dignity of victims and hold people accountable for their actions. It does not replace the courts, but can include such things as family group conferencing, as well as victim and offender conferencing. It is a different way of dealing with minor offences, and a different way to help an offender plan to return to the community after serving a sentence.

Mr. Speaker, there is innovative work happening throughout the Northwest Territories in support of community justice. Some community justice committees are working with their local probation officers to deliver the Substance Abuse Management and Violence Prevention programs. Others are hosting large events, like the Odd Squad in Deline and Fort McPherson, and the Reel Youth video project in Fort Simpson. Justice committees are also supporting ongoing programs, like the Fort Liard Men's Support Circle, and youth empowerment projects in Ndilo and Detah, who meet regularly to offer peer support and focus on healthy choices.

Mr. Speaker, our residents know what community safety and wellness supports their communities need, and our government is proud to help them make those things happen. Throughout our territory, every week our government is supporting youth programming, on-the-land activities, and addiction awareness workshops developed locally by justice coordinators and committees.

I applaud the work that the community justice committees and the coordinators are doing to enhance the quality of life in our communities, and thank them for being partners to helping us meet our mandate commitments to reduce and prevent crime. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 101-18(3): The Important Contribution of Community Justice Committees
Ministers' Statements

Page 4317

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 102-18(3): Minister Late to the House
Ministers' Statements

Page 4317

Bob McLeod Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise Members that the honourable Wally Schumann will be late arriving in the House today to attend a videoconference before the House of Commons' Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 102-18(3): Minister Late to the House
Ministers' Statements

Page 4317

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Small Communities' Access to Cannabis and Northern Cannabis Business Opportunities
Members' Statements

Page 4317

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Recently the province of Quebec elected a new government. The new government said the legal age for purchasing and consuming cannabis will be 21. The Prime Minister responded by saying that the age proposed by the premier-elect will only feed the illegal cannabis market. The Prime Minister's reason was that people in Quebec between the ages of 18 and 21 will continue to use street dealers to purchase cannabis.

Mr. Speaker, if we don't open the doors for small businesses to get into the legal distribution and selling of cannabis within our small communities, I fear we may create a similar situation. Cannabis users in small communities will not have easy access to cannabis products unless they walk down the street to buy it illegally. I realize that small communities can buy online; however, you would likely need a credit card.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, this government must work toward creating equal access for cannabis users in small communities, as exists in larger centres with liquor stores. We also must look internally for suppliers of cannabis within the NWT. In other words, Mr. Speaker, we should be open to the idea of cultivating cannabis grow-ops within the NWT. Already there are many businesses across Canada that are growing cannabis on a mass scale to supply this country's new marketplace. We in the North, Mr. Speaker, are once again in the position where industries from outside the Northwest Territories are reaping benefits of sales made within the territory. Going forward, the NWT should seriously consider the great potential our own home-grown products can provide.

Mr. Speaker, the NWT's cannabis stock will be supplied by three southern companies. Just imagine if the majority of the territory's cannabis needs was filled by northern distributors. I truly believe that the NWT must seize the opportunity to tap into this emerging industry before we fall too far behind.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, our government officials across the country are fearful that Canada's current stock of cannabis is too small, creating a cannabis shortage in the legal market. This also would force cannabis users to once again turn to the illegal market. Legal cannabis presents great business opportunities for people in the NWT. We cannot afford to continue to hamper the full potential of our territory. We must quickly facilitate the growth and distribution of cannabis within the NWT. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Small Communities' Access to Cannabis and Northern Cannabis Business Opportunities
Members' Statements

Page 4318

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Cannabis Legalization Preparedness
Members' Statements

Page 4318

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to provide a quick report on Cabinet's cannabis legalization preparedness. First of all, the sales site of the new NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission popped up today to sell cannabis online, although it's extremely hard to find and there are no links from GNWT sites. On the information side, a number of departmental websites deal with cannabis. If one department could win a prize on this, it would be Health and Social Services. It has a good assortment of information, documents, and links on health effects of cannabis. The department sponsored an online talk by a health expert and sent out a mailer, as the Minister mentioned earlier today.

The Department of Justice website has some information for tenants and landlords on cannabis use and plants, but nothing on policing or penalties for cannabis law violations. The Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs has some general information about topics including possession restrictions, growing cannabis, buying it, and impaired driving. Infrastructure has a bid on impaired driving. The Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission has a general information sheet that deals with cannabis as a fitness to work and impairment matter. There is nothing on the Department of Finance, other than a link to the Executive web page. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment and MACA websites have nothing. There is nothing yet in place for private cannabis retail to fulfil Cabinet's commitment to allow private retail within six months after passage of the bill.

I'm not aware of any government-wide communications, plans, or efforts, and given the uneven coverage of cannabis on departmental web pages, some improvements are clearly in order. There are also issues about the transparency and accountability for the revenues.

Our government will receive revenues and spend funds on implementation activities. Revenues will show up in the Liquor Revolving Fund, and there will be separate reporting on cannabis versus liquor. It is not clear what Cabinet intends to spend in terms of implementation.

The picture I'm painting here is one of a lack of coordination, and there is still no overall plan for cannabis from our government. We need a robust monitoring and evaluation framework that includes public reporting. This is exactly what the standing committee requested. Cabinet promised, and has yet to deliver. Mr. Speaker, where is the plan?

I will have questions for the Minister of Finance later today. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Cannabis Legalization Preparedness
Members' Statements

Page 4318

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Cannabis Legalization
Members' Statements

Page 4318

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, today marks an important day in the history of Canada and how we as a nation address the social and physiological issue of addiction.

Ninety-five years of cannabis prohibition has failed to achieve the ends it sets out to achieve. It has not curbed illegal markets, nor has it righted social wrongs. Prohibition does not ensure that communities are safe; rather, it opens them up to gangsters and bootleggers who are accountable to no one, who cut their products with toxins, and all too often it is accompanied by violence. Bootlegging is a problem that affects us all in the NWT. The consequences of illegally imported controlled substances circumventing local laws is an ever-challenging issue which requires vigilance on the part of all governments and law-abiding citizens.

I want to start off by commending the GNWT for their efforts to make available to the public a great deal of evidence-based resources. Household mailers, talking kits, fact sheets, newspaper ads, and webcasts hosted by health experts are just some of the measures which have been made available to the public. I am proud to see that this and other governments all over Canada are making joint efforts toward shaping conversations as opposed to pushing for convictions of minor offences.

Most impressively, I wish to note the audio recordings made on the topic of "Health Effects of Cannabis" have been published in nine official Indigenous languages, and English and French. It is of utmost importance that all peoples in the NWT are made aware, in their language of choice, of the effects, good and bad and otherwise, that come with the legalization of cannabis.

The aforementioned resources made available to teachers, caregivers, students, and clinicians are key to ensuring a healthy and prosperous future for all those who live in our territory. We as parents, caregivers, and elders have a duty to let these tough conversations play out with those we love and care for.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that Northerners know how to remain compliant with this new legal framework. To purchase, an individual must be 19 years of age, and no one can possess in public more than 30 grams of cannabis. Most importantly, the dangers to oneself and one's community when operating a vehicle while impaired by cannabis or alcohol must not be forgotten or understated.

Mr. Speaker, Northerners have come a long way since the 1920s, and today marks the beginning of the end of prohibition and the start of a bold new era where we can actually make a meaningful difference in the high rates of substance abuse in the Northwest Territories and across Canada. I am looking hopefully forward to a future where these rates will come down, where our communities will be safer, and our children will be protected. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Cannabis Legalization
Members' Statements

Page 4319

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Members' statements. Member for Yellowknife Centre.