The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce wants the territorial government to let any private company bid for the right to open a cannabis store.

Trade in cannabis will be legalized alongside consumption of the drug this summer. However, the Government of the Northwest Territories currently plans to allow cannabis sales only through existing liquor stores.

The territory says that’s the quickest and simplest solution given the lack of time to implement legalization of cannabis under the federal government’s timeline, as liquor stores already have measures in place to ensure cannabis is sold responsibly.

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However, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce is now calling on the territory to change its mind and “consider a competitive process” for new cannabis stores instead.

‘Counter to basic principles’

“If licences are going to be issued for cannabis retail, Yellowknife entrepreneurs should have the opportunity to apply for these licences and operate within the chosen regulatory framework,” read a statement issued by the chamber.

The territory has said private retailers – other than current liquor store operators – may have an opportunity to enter the cannabis market at a later, unspecified date.

The chamber says it wrote to the territorial government in November to convey disappointment in the plans, but a response received in January indicated there would be no change in position.

“We believe [Yellowknife will] have to forgo the economic benefits that cities in Alberta are reaping as new stores fill vacant spaces, create jobs, and drive foot traffic to downtown areas,” the chamber said in its latest statement.

“The proposed retail model runs counter to basic principles of fair competition and economic diversification,” said Mike Lalonde, the chamber’s president, in prepared remarks.

“We’re asking for an open and transparent process that provides entrepreneurs with an opportunity to demonstrate that they can operate at whatever standards are set by the territorial government.”

‘The only way’

Speaking to Cabin Radio at a briefing in November last year, representatives of the territory said there was no timeline in place for the entry of private businesses to the cannabis market in the NWT.

Kelly Bluck, the territory’s director of fiscal policy, told that briefing private stores would only be able to sell cannabis, and no other products.

“Private businesses could approach us with a proposal now,” said Bluck at the time, “but we haven’t set up how they would be handled.” Bluck said the process would be essentially the same as bidding to set up a new liquor store, with the same checks and balances in place.

“After consideration, we feel the only way [setting up cannabis sales in time for the summer’s legalization] would really work would be to use the liquor commission,” said Bluck.