Yukon will spend about $2.7 million this year to build an inventory of marijuana, according to the minister overseeing the territory's plan for legal pot sales.
Minister John Streicker told the legislative assembly on Monday he's anticipating a possible shortage once marijuana becomes legal later this year.
The territorial budget this year allocates $3 million to the Yukon Liquor Corporation for a "Cannabis Distributor Corporation Fund."
"Ninety per cent of those startup costs will be going toward inventory," said Streicker.
"After the date when cannabis is legalised across the country, and until such time as production catches up, there may be a shortage. We're looking to make sure that there is a supply in place."
The Yukon government has not yet revealed where it will be buying its marijuana, or at what price, but a government spokesperson said $2.7 million should buy about a four-month supply.
Questions about storage and retail
The City of Whitehorse recently amended its zoning bylaws to allow marijuana sales in only one part of the city: an industrial and commercial mixed-use area called Marwell.
Last week, a Yukon government-issued request for proposals sought bids for building a new warehouse in that part of Whitehorse. The only bid came in at $3.4 million, which was higher than the total budget allocated this year for legalization costs.
Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane, seized on that in the legislature.
"The Yukon government's plan to grow government by creating a new government-run cannabis corporation has already hit a pothole," he said.
Streicker said a new warehouse would be paid for over the course of 20 years, adding it has not been decided if the government will go ahead with that plan. The territorial government might instead use an existing warehouse used by the Yukon Liquor Corporation.
"We also have our own warehouse nearby which also could act as a warehouse [for pot]. So there are choices to be made," Streicker said.
"What we're working toward making sure ... is that there will be cannabis available for Yukoners by the time it becomes legal. And I don't have a clear answer."
Government cannabis workers will be 'temporary'
Streicker said Yukon will be hiring fewer than five full-time people to deal with cannabis regulation. Retail jobs at the government-run store will be temporary contracts.
"We're looking to see how this can transition to the private sector, as soon as we're able to get the regulations and the ability for the private sector to come online. While we are working to ensure that cannabis is available for our citizens, we're not trying to commit to long-term to have a store," he said.
The Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse have not yet established a way for private business to apply for a licence.
"We've been talking with the business community about their interests. I can't give you an exact timeline," said Streicker.