Northwest Territories

Legislation history

When a July 2018 deadline passed for the six Northwest Territories towns with liquor stores to decide whether to hold a vote to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in their communities, the sparsely populated region was set to proceed with the October 17, 2018, legalization date.

The Northwest Territories, with only about 45,000 residents spread across the area splayed north of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan will have a slow rollout of product availability. Initially, recreational cannabis will only be sold and controlled by the government at a handful of liquor stores in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Fort Simpson.

After legalization, the government planned to decide on regulations for potential, private standalone cannabis stores. The government also controls online sales.

However, town councils were first given the choice whether to put legalization before voters if they wanted to ban sales. None of the projected sites asked for the vote, according to Todd Sasaki, communications officer for the Government of the Northwest Territories.

If the government decides to expand availability in other areas, those can decide whether to ask for votes in advance as well.

With that, the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act (Bill 6) goes into effect on October 17, 2018.

The Northwest Territories have the second-lowest per capita consumption of cannabis, behind only eastern neighbor Nunavut, and consumers pay among the highest prices in the country.

Like most provinces, the Northwest Territories conducted a Cannabis Legalization Survey to gauge community views on recreational marijuana. More than 1,100 responses were received and community meetings were conducted in nine locations.

Among the findings:

  • Most supported government distribution and oversight by the Liquor Commission, but split on whether sales should be in government stores or private dispensaries;
  • Most favored government limits on possession and home growing;
  • A majority supported fines and penalties for marijuana-impaired driving and workplace impairment, as well as education and public awareness campaigns, and;
  • Participants were also evenly split on whether communities should have the option to put local restrictions or prohibitions on cannabis use.

In addition to the federal strengthening of drug-impaired driving, the Northwest Territories is imposing a “zero-tolerance” policy for driving with any detectable amounts of marijuana or alcohol in the body for drivers younger than  21 and commercial drivers.

Violators face administrative license suspensions and federal penalties for failing field sobriety tests and/or evaluations, or for refusing to submit to testing.

Under federal guidelines, drivers face graduated penalties depending on levels of drug and/or alcohol concentrations, as well as previous offenses.

Federally, the legal limit for THC in the bloodstream is 2 nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram. Concentrations between 2 and 5 nonograms result in a fine of up to $1,000. Concentrations of 5 or more nanograms will result in a $1,000 minimum fine on the first offense, imprisonment of 30 days or more on a second offense, and 120 days or more on a third offense. Penalties for drug-impaired driving accidents can range from 18 months to life imprisonment in a fatal accident.

Where is it safe to purchase weed in the Northwest Territories?

When legalization takes effect October 17, 2018, consumers in the Northwest Territories will only be able to purchase recreational cannabis through liquor stores supplied and overseen by the government's Liquor Commission, which will establish a system similar to that used for alcohol.

Although the federal government suggested cannabis be sold in stand-alone stores, exceptions were made for rural areas. The Government of the Northwest Territories decided to co-locate in liquor stores because the stores had existing retail infrastructure to handle cannabis sales.  

Currently, there are liquor stores in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Norman Wells.

Minors are allowed in stores if accompanied by a parent or authorized adult.

The territory plans to allow the establishment of private cannabis retail establishments but has yet to set the criteria for those operations. Officials expect to have the framework in place by December 2018.

Residents can also purchase recreational cannabis online or via mail order.

Customers are permitted to buy a maximum of 30 grams, or 1.06 ounces, of dried cannabis at one time, or equivalents in fresh cannabis and cannabis oils.

Premade edibles and extracts will not be available until one (1) year after the legislation is passed.

Employees will be required to take government-sponsored cannabis training programs.

Where is it safe to consume?

Smoking will generally be allowed in places where tobacco smoking and vaping are allowed. It will be allowed on private property as well as trails, highways, streets and public parks, unless those are being used for public events.

Landlords have opportunities to make rental properties smoke-free as part of lease agreements.

Municipalities can make bylaws to expand areas where smoking recreational marijuana is prohibited.

Consuming cannabis is not allowed in public areas frequented by children and crowds.

It is illegal to consume cannabis while operating a vehicle for either drivers or passengers. In a vehicle, cannabis must be stored in a sealed container that is not accessible to the driver or passengers during transport, unless the product is in its original unopened packaging.

Possessing cannabis


The legal age to buy or possess cannabis in the Northwest Territories is 19. The province followed federal suggestions to allow possession of up to 30 grams, or 1.06 ounces, of cannabis.

The national government has set equivalencies for one (1) gram of dried cannabis to equal:

  • Five (5) grams of fresh cannabis
  • 15 grams of edibles
  • 70 milliliters, or 2.37 fluid ounces, of liquid
  • 0.25 grams of concentrate, and
  • One (1) plant seed.

No limit was set for home storage.

Minors younger than 19 are not allowed to possess cannabis. Those caught with less than five (5) grams face the same penalties as possession of alcohol or tobacco, which include seizure of the product and parental notification. Those with more than five (5) grams face criminal charges.


By federal law, patients using medical cannabis are allowed to have up to 150 grams, or 5.3 ounces — 30 times the daily dose prescribed by an authorized health-care practitioner of dried cannabis or its equivalent.

Is home cultivation allowed in the Northwest Territories?

The Northwest Territories will follow federal guidelines, allowing the cultivation of up to four (4) plants per household for personal use. Renters and those in multifamily residences may be restricted by leases or condominium agreements. These regulations do not apply to approved and licensed homegrown medical cannabis, which is governed by national laws.

Medical marijuana in the Northwest Territories

Thousands of Canadians are federally licensed to possess and use medical marijuana. Until the new law is passed, Canadians must the qualify for the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which came into effect on August 24, 2016.

Recipients must provide medical documentation confirming the diagnosis by a health-care practitioner, either an authorized physician or nurse practitioner.

Patients must not be convicted of a marijuana-related offense and be registered only once at a time.

Qualifying conditions

Generally, patients can qualify for medical marijuana under two categories. One is to allow for compassionate end-of-life care, for alleviating pain symptoms relating to illnesses and injuries, or for side effects from cancer or HIV/AIDS medications. The second category is for patients suffering from other persistent debilitating symptoms. Among the ailments Health Canada lists as possibly qualifying are:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Attention-deficit and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders (ADD/ADHD)
  • Back and neck conditions
  • Brain injury
  • Cancer
  • Chronic nausea
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Colitis
    • Crohn's disease
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hepatitis C
  • Kidney failure, including patients receiving dialysis
  • Migraines
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Severe arthritis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleep disorders
  • Vehicular crashes

Application process

Information on eligibility and applying is available at the Canadian government's medical marijuana website.


Authorized caregivers are allowed to possess fresh or dried marijuana or cannabis oil, and may transfer or administer the substance or provide a medical document. They may also transfer substances to an individual who is responsible for the patient under his or her professional treatment.

This page was last updated on October 16, 2018.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on July 19, 2021.