Medical pot production will be allowed on ag land

It would have been Chilliwack's preference to create a special industrial zone for medical marijuana. But that's not going to happen.

The province changed the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules to specifically identify federally licensed medical marihuana production as an allowable farm use. The rezoning bylaw hearing for Chilliwack is set for Sept. 15.

It would have been Chilliwack council’s preference to create a special zone for growing medical marijuana.

But that’s not going to happen.

The province changed the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules to specifically identify federally licensed medical marihuana production as an allowable farm use.

Coun. Chris Kloot, chair of the agricultural advisory committee, called the move “disheartening” and “disappointing.”

It’s a big shift for cities and municipalities that will now be permitted to regulate, but not to ban, medical pot grow-operations in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Coun. Chuck Stam wondered during the meeting “if it wouldn’t make more sense to create a special zone,” like the one Chilliwack created for feed mills for example, so that community input could be sought.

Peter Monteith, the city’s chief administrative officer, replied that a special zone would go “against the spirit” of the provincial directive on this matter.

“This is a use that’s now permitted on ALR land,” said Monteith. “Council can do what they want, but it might get us into hot water with the province.”

There’s now an expectation in place that local government bylaws will dovetail and be made consistent with provincial regulations and the bylaw standard by fall 2015.

Coun. Kloot had asked during the council meeting Tuesday if there was anything that could be done about it being an allowed use on agriculture land.

“I was looking for direction to see if there was an alternative,” he told The Progress Thursday.

“I realize it’s a plant, but it’s illegal. I think we have to give credit to the prior council for trying to create a special zone. But the province smacked us down and said ‘Nope.’

“So we’re heading into an unknown area,” Kloot said.

Chilliwack now has to redo its zoning bylaw that applies to medical marijuana production, since it had opted to create a special industrial zone, an M6 zone. A new public hearing on the rezoning bylaw to allow it on ag land is set for Sept. 15.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said Chilliwack would have preferred treating medical pot like a pharmaceutical, rather than an agricultural product.

In council chambers she suggested a cursory note could be sent to the B.C. agriculture minister as a followup.

“Maybe we could put in additional safeguards about odour, setbacks and chemicals,” she said.

“But let there be no mistake that the template province is now using is partially because of the concerns local governments like Chilliwack had. They conceded on some things and medical grow-ops will be taxed at an industrial rate.”

That alleviates one of Chilliwack’s concerns, she said.

“The other was the concern that arable land will have a bunker on it. But this is as good as we get, and I think the province will be satisfied that we will be complying with the intent.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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