Chilliwack council was first to pass a resolution asking that medical pot operations be restricted to industrial zones

Keep farmland free of medical pot growing: Chilliwack

The feds are now gearing up to remove medical pot growing from residential areas for good, to be replaced by large commercial growers.

The recent push from B.C. cities to ensure medical marijuana is grown in industrial zones, and not on farmland, stemmed from a motion first passed by Chilliwack city council.

Federal authorities are now gearing up to remove medical pot growing from residential areas for good, to be replaced by large commercial growers.

But there are still lingering questions as to where exactly these marijuana grow-ops will be permitted to set up shop.

“Medical marijuana is more akin to a pharmaceutical product so we believe it should be sited in industrial rather than on agricultural land,” said Coun. Chuck Stam, chair of the city’s public safety committee.

A new regulatory regime for medical marijuana from Health Canada is expected to come into force by 2014, and big changes are expected under the federally regulated program.

About 67 per cent of Chilliwack’s land base is agricultural, so it’s a big question mark for Chilliwack, as to whether those lands will be allowed to be used for this purpose. City officials have made it clear they don’t want to see medical pot growing on farmland.

The concerns range from odours and toxic chemicals, along with potential security issues from grow-rips, fires and mould damage, Stam said.

“There’s a belief that it would put a lot of pressure on our agricultural producers, since it’s a high value crop.”

He said a situation in Ryder Lake, where people are on private wells worried about contamination of their water, has highlighted the problem for the safety committee, and discussions have been held with Safer Neighbourhoods, and other groups.

The resolution was brought to the floor of a Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) meeting by Coun. Jason Lum on May 9. It urged Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) to lobby for the industrial-only land restriction as the feds prepare to approve new large-scale growers.

It argues that siting medical grow-ops on farm land would create “a tax burden on the community” similar to other industrial uses, “at a much greater level than the tax recovery on farm property would produce,” and resolves that UBCM ask the province to amend the Assessment Act, so they can’t be classified as a farm for assessment and tax purposes, “if the land is used for the production and distribution of marihuana for medical purposes.”

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.

“For cities it’s remains a question of where it should happen, and zoning is the only tool we have,” Stam said.

The April 1, 2014 date is approaching quickly, he said.

“It sounds like it’s a long time away, but it’s not,” said the Chilliwack city councillor.

All of the “so-called legal” grow-ops in homes won’t be permitted after that date as the MMAR rules are set to change, and cities have to be prepared with bylaws changes in place.

“So the question becomes what happens to them? Do they turn out the light where they are on April 1? Or do they move onto industrial lands?” Stam asked.

A total of 3,576 Canadians had licences to cultivate/produce marihuana for medical purposes, as of January 2010 according to federal sources, while 2,822 people hold a personal-use production licence and 754 hold a designated-person production licence under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR).

“I suspect there will be legal challenges to Health Canada eventually,” said Stam, depending on what they decide to do about locating the grow-ops.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin is one local leader who disagreed with the no-farmland position the other cities are taking.

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

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

Maple Ridge wants the pot growers to instead be limited by the feds to agricultural parcels, with large setbacks, similar to mushroom or hog farms.

–with files from Jeff Nagel