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Chilliwack gets the jump on medical pot zoning

Second and third readings were given to allow medical marijuana grow-ops to be set up in a special M6 industrial zone
City of Chilliwack is looking at a special industrial zone for medical marijuana growing operations. A public hearing is set for Aug. 20.

Growing medical marijuana in Chilliwack will be restricted to a special industrial zone to prevent irritants like offensive odours, security risks, and bright lights.

Council approved text amendments on Tuesday, defining medical marijuana grow operations (MMGOs), and prohibiting them in all zones except the newly amended M6 special industrial zone.

They will not be allowed in agricultural areas.

Most of those who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday said they liked what they heard.

"I'm in favour of your amendments," said resident Susan Chambers about the M6 zoning, adding she did not want to see them on agricultural land.

Other types of businesses in the M6 zone include abbattoirs or slaughterhouses, asphalt manufacturers and sewage treatment plants, and now MMGOs.

One commercial building owner, Gerald Murphy, wanted to know if properties zoned M3, could be converted to M6, if the lot size was smaller, and was told it was likely possible.

Business owner Cathy Robertson said she was in favour of council's direction on the topic, and appreciated them jumping into the fray well in advance of the new rules.

"I'm in favour of the M6 zone. I want it known I don't think it should be produced and distributed in commercial areas."

Her business was in a unit on the other side from a medical pot grow-op and the smell and presence of it not only offended her customers, but she often worried would make her an unintended target of a grow-rip.

Chilliwack resident Larry Balisky praised the "proactive and positive" approach the city was taking with the amendments.

Larry Wood said he was in quality assurance for ABA HerbiCeuticals of Mission, and had been scoping out various cities as possible locations for future MMGOs under the new rules.

"I'm pleased to see (Chilliwack) working on it this early," he said about the special zoning.

The city has to be ready in time for when the federal rules kick in on April 1, 2014.

So what kind of city support might a licensed grower expect, Wood asked.

"We do hope that Health Canada comes forward with more than two inspectors for the whole program," said Mayor Gaetz. "You can't start a business and then download costs to local government."

But that wasn't what he meant.

"What I'm really talking about is that right now the dispensaries would be in direct competition should they remain. Some of the operations are anticipating staying. I'm referring to Compassion Clubs."

"We don't have one. They are illegal," the mayor replied.

Coun. Chuck Stam, who also chairs the public safety committee, said council was generally happy about Health Canada's new rules on MMGOs.

"The zoning before us tonight is advancing the certainty for the community, and creating certainty for all as we move ahead."

It's been "a long road to get us to the point," said Stam.

The special zoning is "a safe and practical way of accommodating" MMGOs in the community, he added.

Coun. Ken Popove said living next door to such an operation means the new rules can't come soon enough for him.

"Let's get this thing done. Getting it out of the residential areas is a must."

Coun. Jason Lum was glad to hear "affirmation from the public" that council is doing the right thing.

"What this council has done is take a pragmatic look at the situation," he said.

Keep in mind it's not a small business at all, Lum said, but a $7 billion industry in the province.

"Chilliwack is a business-forward looking community and I think we've proven it again," he noted.

Mayor Gaetz said it was "comforting" to know they're "on the right track," based on the feedback, and she was encouraged that people understand the value of farmland.

After the public hearing, council gave second and third reading to bylaw revisions including MMGOs in a special industrial zone. Although Health Canada will retain responsibility for inspections and enforcing regulations, the city can control specific conditions in the special industrial zone.

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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