Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said the territory will be home to at least one storefront marijuana outlet under legalization. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Yukon premier says local pot shops will be ready to go by July

Territorial government still deciding between private, public, hybrid models, Silver says

The Yukon’s premier says he is confident the territory will have at least one brick-and-mortar shop selling cannabis when the drug becomes legal across Canada in July.

“There will be, in the Yukon, your ability to at least go into the liquor store here in Whitehorse — at the bare minimum,” Silver said Oct. 4 after returning from the first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa.

“We believe as we move forward we will have some kind of distribution ready to go at that time.”

At the national meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his proposal to add an excise tax of $1 per gram of cannabis for sales up to $10 and a tax of 10 per cent of the total price for cannabis selling at a higher price point.

Silver said the tax rate “makes sense to me” but he disagrees with the prime minister’s proposal to split the money 50/50 between Ottawa and the jurisdictions.

“We believe that our expenses are a lot more than the federal government’s expenses,” he said, pointing to extra costs for the Yukon’s health and education departments as well as the cost of distribution.

He insists legalization is not about making money.

“By legitimizing it you’re getting it our of the hands of our kids, because you’re getting these illegal trade guys … out of the way.”

Silver didn’t say how much of the money he thinks the Yukon should be able to keep. That percentage will be discussed the next time the country’s finance ministers meet, he said.

“We’re asking Ottawa, ‘What are your expenses? Put your expenses on the table, we’ll put our expenses on the table and we’ll take a look at that.’”

Ottawa’s plans for legalized pot 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.

Provinces and territories have the option to tailor those rules.

Silver said he think bumping the territory’s age of consumption to 19, to match the liquor laws makes sense “for ease of implementation.”

Jurisdictions also get control over their own licensing, distribution and retail sales rules.

Some have started to roll out their plans. Silver said the territory hasn’t decided what it wants its distribution model to be.

“We’re looking at a lot of different (distribution) models … private, public (or a) hybrid somewhere in between,” he said.

He said officials will be looking at results of the public survey on cannabis legislation.

According to the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services, more than 3,100 people completed a survey making it the most successful survey ever undertaken by the government.

Whatever the Yukon’s model ends up looking like, the premier said he expects it to evolve.

“If we go in the direction of a completely public system, the obvious choice would be to go through our liquor stores. There’s a liquor store in almost every community so the networking is already there,” he said.

If the territory wanted to go with a model run entirely by privately-owned stores “we would not be ready” to be up and running by July, he said.

Silver said he would like to eventually have small local “craft” producers growing cannabis in the territory, something he compared to a local micro-brewery.

“We do want to see that craft market. If money is to be made let the private sector be involved in that craft side of things. You can reduce the cost, I would imagine, if there’s a local product.”

Cannabis producers have to register nationally. Silver said right now there are no Yukoners have signed up to be part of the national registry.

Last month the Association of Yukon Communities raised concerns about whether the territory’s communities will be ready for legalization in time.

Silver said said he brought the municipalities’ concerns to Ottawa.

“We said, ‘Look, as you guys are talking to us about a 50/50 split, remember, don’t just look at our costs, look at the municipalities’ costs as well. This is going to cost a lot to regulate in the municipalities as well.”

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis said he’s “cautiously optimistic” the city will be ready for when cannabis is legalized. He expects an increased workload for the city’s bylaw and planning departments when cannabis is legal and it’s “a given” that the city will need more resources.

Depending on how the Yukon’s distribution model rolls out, Whitehorse may have to make changes to its building permits and business licence rules, for example, he said, and the bylaw department is already stretched thin.

Curtis said the territorial and federal governments are aware of the municipalities’ concerns and he hopes that translates into some money for communities.

“I’m not so interested in getting revenue generation from the taxation brought in, but I am very concerned about the extra services that may be required from our staff, bylaw and planning.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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