The NWT government is introducing new restrictions at its liquor stores with immediate effect, designed to help to tackle bootlegging.
From Thursday, customers can only spend a maximum of $200 per day at any NWT liquor store. There will be a limit of six mickeys (375 ml bottles) of spirits per customer.
The details were published by the NWT Association of Communities, which shared a memo from finance minister Caroline Wawzonek on its Facebook page.
The territorial government later confirmed the changes in a news release, saying the measures were a response to requests from MLAs, Indigenous leaders, and community leaders.
“These purchase restrictions are meant to ensure that residents will continue to have access to alcohol in those communities that permit it,” said Wawzonek in a statement, “while making it more difficult for bootlegging activity that takes advantage of vulnerable residents.”
The restrictions mark a retreat for Wawzonek from her previous position.
Last week, the minister said restricting alcohol “to a degree that pushes people to return more frequently to liquor stores, to be out of their homes more frequently” would not accomplish the goal of keeping people at home.
In Thursday’s memo, she reiterated that she believed communities were best-placed to determine how liquor should be managed within their boundaries, with the NWT government’s help. As of Tuesday, four communities had applied for temporary liquor prohibitions.
“I recognize this is a very important issue and that we are dealing with it in uncertain times,” Wawzonek wrote.
She said the changes were being made in response to concerns previously raised. The Dene Nation and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, alongside MLAs like Steve Norn, have been most vocal in asking for broad restriction of alcohol purchasing.
Alcohol delivery coming soon?
Wawzonek’s memo also states she is considering allowing taxi drivers, or restaurants offering takeout, to deliver alcohol to people at home.
The minister said doing so would be “in keeping” with the chief public health officer’s guidelines designed to keep people at home where possible. If such a change is made, she added, the amount that could be purchased would be limited “to encourage responsible consumption, not to supply parties or gatherings.”
No such change has yet taken place.
Fort Simpson’s liquor store is unaffected by Thursday’s new restrictions as it already has longstanding restrictions of its own in place.
Some liquor stores appeared to be adding extra measures of their own. In Norman Wells, a posted sign warned customers they would be asked to leave if they tried to make more than one trip to the community’s liquor store per day.
The new restrictions apply to alcohol and not cannabis. They don’t apply to wholesale purchasers with a licence or permit.
If a single item you’re trying to purchase is priced above $200, you will still be allowed to buy it.
“I struggle to see a reasonable situation where this would affect someone unless they are bootlegging,” said Rylund Johnson, the Yellowknife North MLA, referring to the newly announced $200 daily limit.
“That being said,” he added, “I suspect bootleggers will always find a way – even in a pandemic.”