YG committee ponders regulations for legal pot

At least one local business owner wants to open a recreational marijuana shop once it becomes legal in the territory.

At least one local business owner wants to open a recreational marijuana shop once it becomes legal in the territory.

Jordi Mikeli-Jones and her husband Jeremy have visited more than a dozen dispensaries in British Columbia, taken courses and laid the groundwork for a policy and procedures manual for their hypothetical store.

The pair, who already own Triple Js, Music Tattoo and Piercings in Whitehorse, want to open a separate shop, Triple Js Canna Bliss, that would be a membership-based store for recreational and medicinal marijuana.

“We’re not going to go big. We don’t want to do a big lounge, we’re not interested in public smoking. We’re really there for cannabis products, literature, education and consultation,” she said.

Mikeli-Jones said she’s “thrilled” that the federal government is moving forward with with plans to legalize marijuana and that the territorial government is supporting it.

“We’ll more than demonstrate the research and the things that we’ve done to just be at the top of our game…. It’s just been a waiting game.”

But Mikeli-Jones’s plans depend on the Yukon government writing its own version of the marijuana law the federal government has promised to implement by July 2018.

If it becomes law, the federal bill unveiled earlier this month would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent in public or share up to 30 grams of dried marijuana with other adults.

They could grow up to four plants per residence for personal use.

Provinces and territories are being given a lot of leeway to tailor the law as they see fit.

Jurisdictions can change the age of consumption to line up with their drinking age. They’ll be able to set their own licensing, distribution and retail sales rules, establish zoning rules for cannabis businesses and change traffic safety laws as they deem necessary.

That’s where the Yukon’s new government working group comes in. Representatives from nearly a dozen departments ranging from health and education to the liquor corporation and workers’ compensation board meet every two weeks to come up with recommendations for what the Yukon’s law could look like.

Co-chair Al Lucier, the assistant deputy minister of community justice and public safety, says its too soon to say what those recommendations will be.

“I’m not in a position to say whether or not it would be our position to do one thing or the other. I think what we want to see across the country is, we want to see relative consistency. We don’t want significant variations in jurisdictions.”

The legislation is meant to provide a safe product to people who are old enough and keep cannabis away from youth, he said.

For now the Yukon working group is made up of senior government officials, but Lucier said they plan to hold public consultations and consult with First Nation governments.

No deadline has been set for when the recommendations will be ready for the territory’s MLAs. Lucier said it’s “too early to tell” whether that will happen in time for the federal government’s 2018 deadline.

If the federal law is passed as is, the federal government could start an online or mail order delivery system into the Yukon. But until the Yukon government gets its own law on the books, no brick and mortar locations could open in the territory.

There’s also no guarantee that a shop like the one Mikeli-Jones is proposing will be allowed.

Jurisdictions could decide to only allow government-controlled shops, similar to liquor stores, Lucier said.

As for who would manage that, a branch like the Yukon Liquor Corporation already deals with distributing a highly regulated product, he said.

“So in terms of their warehousing, their distribution, their licensing, all of that mechanism dealing with a highly regulated product is already in place.

“Whether or not its the liquor corporation (that controls marijuana distribution), or whether it’s a standalone something that would be similar to that, I think has yet to be determined.”

Mikeli-Jones said she thinks it’s a mistake to have only government-run shops.

After 30 years in the community and more than a dozen years sells tobacco paraphernalia, under the Tobacco Tax Act, she said they’ll have the kind of frontline experience to effectively run the business, educate customers and keep the product away from youth.

“We want to demonstrate to the Yukon government especially, as well as to our clients, that we want to work with them to charter these waters together. Let us champion their regulations.”

Yukon’s municipalities are also preparing for the legislative change. The Yukon Association of Communities has sent out a questionnaire to all of its members to find out where they stand.

“There are so many things that are directly affecting a municipal government in terms of building inspections, permitting, planning, business licences,” said Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis.

Curtis said he believes the city will be ready when the law changes.

“I believe that our planning department and our building inspectors, they cover so much already, I don’t anticipate — it’s just my opinion — I don’t anticipate a really big taxing of resources and people.”

Curtis said the change is something he personally supports.

“I don’t look at this as a revenue generator, but I think it’s going to take those much needed resources from the RCMP and justice and realign them to more violent crimes that will definitely make our community safer.”

— With files from Canadian Press.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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