Yellowknife is still lacking licensed, private cannabis stores – and even, sometimes, any cannabis itself – almost 18 months after the drug’s legalization in Canada.
In the NWT, the process of licensing new stores falls to the Department of Finance. On Monday, finance minister Caroline Wawzonek acknowledged the process was taking longer than expected.
“There certainly has been a delay,” said Wawzonek.
At the moment, cannabis is only legally sold in the Northwest Territories through government-controlled stores.
The process of allowing business owners to operate private cannabis stores began last spring, when hopeful Yellowknife entrepreneurs were invited to respond to a request for qualifications.
In December, businesses like ReLeaf NT were told they had passed the request for qualifications and would now enter the second stage: a more detailed request for proposals, in which their full business plans must be set out.
However, in the intervening months, that second stage has yet to begin.
“That process was due out in January. I acknowledge that it’s now not January,” Wawzonek said in the legislature on Monday, responding to questions from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.
“I am assured it will be complete and public this month,” the minister continued. “I will certainly ensure that I am doing my best to follow up on that date.
“At that point, how quickly private individuals or private companies are able to develop their progress, per store, will be in the hands of those individuals or companies.”
YK shortage a ‘one-off’
Meanwhile, Johnson said he feared disruption in existing legal cannabis supply would be sending Yellowknifers back to the black market.
As reported by NNSL, the city’s sole cannabis retailer had no product on the shelves for a number of days in late February.
Edward Eggenberger, owner of the uptown Liquor Shop, told the newspaper the shortage was a “one-off.”
In the legislature, Johnson said the absence of legal cannabis meant “we are allowing criminals to continue to sell cannabis, as well as not gaining the tax revenue needed from this.”
In detail: Read this exchange on OpenNWT.ca
He asked Wawzonek: “Why, 18 months after legalization, do we still not have our procurement process in order?”
Wawzonek replied: “There have actually not been very many stock outages since January of 2019, though there was indeed some delay recently. I am told the resupply did come in last Friday and it is something we are continuously monitoring.
“I am alive to the ultimate impacts of not having supply and what that does.
“It’s a fairly new system across Canada so, hopefully, as all the provinces and territories work that through, we will see a general improvement to the legal supply to all provinces and territories – including ours.”