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Pot participation positive
More than 100 people turn out to participate in dialogue on cannabis legalization

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

If there was one thing Thursday's cannabis legalization meeting in Yellowknife made abundantly clear, it was that the majority of people do not want to see a liquor-store model used to sell legal marijuana in the territory.

More than 100 people crammed into a room at the Explorer Hotel for what the territorial government describes as a dialogue on what legal cannabis may look like in the NWT. The federal government has introduced legislation making the recreational use of marijuana legal across Canada by July of next year.

Several members of the public said they did not want to see a monopoly over the sale of marijuana in the territory, citing the high cost of alcohol in liquor stores as one of the reasons they oppose that model.

"The liquor store model is absolutely ridiculous," said one woman, who declined to tell Yellowknifer her name.

"Even the fact that liquor is regulated the way it is in the North is ridiculous. You want to put this in the hands of a few ... it's probably going to be super expensive because alcohol is super expensive."

Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber believes the government should not be a retailer of legal marijuana.

"Producers should not also be able to sell their product," she said.

"(Allowing licensed sales) will create a more fair environment which will allow small businesses to start up and take advantage of those opportunities."

Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister of Justice, told the audience several government departments have been hard at work getting policies in place ahead of legalization. He added engaging the public has been an important part of that.

He said as of Sept. 13, a total of 1,111 people had taken a survey the GNWT posted online this summer to gauge how the public feels marijuana should be legalized.

"We've been very pleased at the strong response to the survey," he said, adding the government has also written directly to 120 organizations such as community and Aboriginal governments and non-governmental organizations to seek their views as well.

Michele Thoms, a teacher in Yellowknife, said schools and young people have been completely overlooked when it comes to the education aspects of legal marijuana.

"One of my concerns is that the survey came out in the summer," she said.

"I was shut off and my students were shut off in the summer. There has been no word in the schools about this survey and no word brought to the schools about this entire event. I would like to see a concerted effort to bring the news of this law into the schools."

Kim MacNearney, one of the city's best-known marijuana advocates, said she felt the meeting was a worthwhile endeavor, but added the public won't know how well the government is listening until the legislation comes out.

The only politician to attend the event was Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly.

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