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Keep medical marijuana off farmland, cities say

Commercial producers of medical marijuana are to be licensed by Ottawa but cities say they want them to be allowed only in industrial zones. - File
Commercial producers of medical marijuana are to be licensed by Ottawa but cities say they want them to be allowed only in industrial zones.
— image credit: File

Lower Mainland politicians want any new licensed medical marijuana factories built on industrial land, not already scarce farmland.

A resolution passed Thursday by the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) urges the Union of B.C. Municipalities to lobby for the industrial-only land restriction as the federal government prepares to approve new large-scale indoor growers.

Ottawa announced in January it will phase out individual licences for medical marijuana users to grow pot in their own homes and instead have all medical pot grown and distributed by highly regulated, secure commercial operators.

Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner said medical marijuana is a pharmaceutical that should be grown in industrial zoned areas rather than competing against food crops for

agricultural land that's already too expensive for some prospective conventional farmers.

"We would be utilizing a lot of agricultural land for something that could be in a greenhouse environment in an industrial zone," Hepner said.

"We don't want to see all our agricultural food space in marijuana," added outgoing LMLGA president Barbara Steele.

Also backing the resolution were several politicians from Fraser Valley communities.

The federal health ministry intends to launch the new system by April of 2014.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin is one local leader who disagreed.

"We feel very strongly our industrial park is not the appropriate place," he said.

The main concerns, Daykin said, are odour for neighbours and whether operators have tough enough security to fend off grow-rips by gangsters.

Maple Ridge wanted the federally regulated pot growers to instead be limited to agricultural parcels, with large setbacks, similar to what would be used for a mushroom or hog farm.

"We've got somebody who is already interested in putting up a 26,000 square foot facility," Daykin said.

Hydroponic pot farms grown in well-gated industrial buildings would still be a good fit on low-quality agricultural land with marginal soils, he said.

Daykin dismissed concerns that weed might crowd out food crops.

"The reality is there's probably only going to be 60 to 70 of these facilities across the country," he said. "We might get one or we might not get one. It won't hurt my feelings if we don't."

A big concern for Daykin and other Lower Mainland leaders is what will be done to enforce the shutdown of existing federally approved medical marijuana growers, which have long been criticized for safety hazards and ties to the illegal drug trade.

Health Canada won't share their locations with local cities, so civic teams continue to conduct fire safety inspections that root out many growers.

Medical marijuana grows often turn out to be in violation of health, fire, building or plumbing safety regulations.

"The big issue for us is the fire hazard – the grow ops in the residential areas that go up in smoke," Steele said.

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