Communities in the Northwest Territories have the opportunity to hold a plebiscite on whether to allow or disallow local cannabis sales.
Proposed legislation provides a period of just weeks for some larger communities to decide on holding a plebiscite, before cannabis sales are due to begin in their liquor stores. Disallowing such sales essentially turns a settlement into a "dry community" in line with the present approach to alcohol in the NWT.
Once cannabis sales begin through those stores in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, and Fort Smith, residents will be unable to reverse that decision – leaving a quickly held plebiscite the only option for anyone concerned about the implications of local cannabis sales.
"The six communities that have liquor stores now will be designated for cannabis sales under the legislation because the cannabis will be sold through the liquor stores," explained Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, one of many MLAs currently touring the territory seeking feedback on the proposed legislation.
"It is possible for those six communities to have plebiscites but there’s a very small window between the time the bill is assented to, which is about June 1, and the time the legislation is implemented which will probably be within two months of that, for them to hold this plebiscite.
"And it’s a once-only opportunity. Once cannabis is sold through stores in those communities, they can’t turn it back. It’s really important to let people know they have this narrow window and if they want a plebiscite, they need to gear up for it right now."
Residents who do not want cannabis to be sold through their liquor stores are encouraged to organize as soon as possible if a plebiscite is desired. Communities must request such a vote through the territorial Department of Finance.
Smaller communities without liquor stores will not have cannabis sales immediately introduced following the passing of legislation, but are still able to hold a plebiscite to decide on how such sales would be treated in future.
"Smaller communities can decide if they want to have cannabis sold in the community, to have it accessible," said Shane Thompson, the MLA for Nahendeh, representing seven communities in the Dehcho.
"Smaller communities can say their piece and exchange information, and for them they have a little bit more time."
So far, Cabin Radio understands no communities have clearly indicated they will ask for a plebiscite to be held.