The co-founder of a cannabis producer bringing top band The Sheepdogs to Yellowknife says the company will use the opportunity to educate people ahead of legalization.
The Sheepdogs play the city's Black Knight pub on July 4 in a show for which tickets are free but in limited supply. Residents who want to go need to sign up with Ticketmaster then redeem their voucher code when told to do so, before tickets run out.
Yellowknife is one of seven confirmed destinations for a summer-long series of concerts being promoted and paid for by Aurora Cannabis, one of the country's biggest cannabis producers.
Cabin Radio reached Chris Mayerson, chief cultivator at the Alberta-based company, on the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed recreational cannabis will be legal nationwide from October 17.
"We’re very excited and very proud of all the politicians and activists involved, and all Canadians involved with making this a reality," said Mayerson, reacting to the news.
"The end of prohibition is definitely something we’re all excited about at Aurora. It’s been a very long time coming but we are happy to be here today."
'Trying to be responsible'
Mayerson said the NWT made the list for the company's Illumination Series of shows because the company "didn't want to overlook cities like Yellowknife" – and because Aurora Cannabis sees an opportunity to educate people across Canada about its product, ahead of legalization.
"Getting our name out there is one piece of the puzzle, but the larger piece is getting out there and having conversations one-on-one," he said.
"Education is a key piece of what we have been doing for years, now. A lot of people out there either have a lot of incorrect information around cannabis or about legalization. Education is a huge piece for us."
Aurora Cannabis isn't the only organization trying to educate people as the legalization of cannabis nears.
The territorial government has spent months issuing brochures and leaflets to residents, attempting to warn them of the potential impact of cannabis on young people in particular.
Mayerson acknowledged his message to northerners may differ from those the territory is supplying.
"That’s the wonderful part of having a conversation with stakeholders across the country – exposing you to different perspectives and different ways of thinking," he suggested.
"I’d be lying to say that I’m not biased; we are influenced by our experiences. The way I see something may be different to a lawmaker in the Northwest Territories. By bringing diverse groups of people together, it’s great. That’s how we further education.
"We are trying to be a very responsible producer of cannabis in this country. That involves having partnerships with people across the country."
Asked earlier this month for comment on Aurora's promotion of a show in Yellowknife, the territorial government's Department of Health told us to contact the federal government.
Aurora's shows will not involve any sale or distribution of cannabis, for the obvious reason that the October legalization date has not yet passed.
However, legalization will also have a significant impact on Aurora's ability to market its product. The legislation coming into effect places a range of restrictions on cannabis producers' sponsorship and promotion of events like July's Sheepdogs show – which may be one reason the company is spending heavily on a summer campaign before the new laws take root.
Writing in the Financial Post on Wednesday, formerly Yellowknife-based journalist Mark Rendell noted: "Over the past year, in the lead up to Trudeau’s long-promised recreational legalization, cannabis companies have made the most of hazy rules around branding to sponsor festivals and concerts or line up thinly veiled celebrity endorsements.
"That will end as soon as the new regulations – banning lifestyle advertising, festival sponsorship and even in-store claims about product effects – come into force, shortly after Royal Assent."
Bruce Linton, founder of another cannabis producer named Canopy Growth, told Rendell: "If you haven’t created a brand, it’s going to be nearly impossible to do so."
Asked if that means this summer's tour will also be the last, given the restrictions ahead, Mayerson said: "We’re going to have to see what the future holds.
"One of the things that’s exciting about working within the regulations is they are always changing. Things do change," he continued.
"Obviously, we hope to be able to engage and educate as many Canadians as we can in the years to can. But first and foremost, we have to be within the regulations. We can’t stray from that and we certainly don’t."