Following a colourful discussion, the District of West Kelowna has moved one step closer to finding somewhere to put commercial medical marijuana operations.
At its Tuesday meeting, council decided it did not want medical marijuana grown on agricultural land. It also voted to prohibit commercial medical marijuana production in multi-unit buildings, unless all tenants are growers.
Council spent more than an hour debating where commercial medical marijuana operations should be allowed.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater called the whole issue “a really big, bloody mess.”
“It’s becoming another disaster by Health Canada,” said Findlater.
“Nobody took the time, on the 20th floor of some building in Ottawa, to figure out how this would work in British Columbia.
“I think we have to stand with basically a whole bunch of other municipalities to try to keep it out of lands that have the potential to co-mingle with residential areas.”
In a report by district senior planner Dallas Clowes, she explained the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) were enacted by the federal government in June 2013.
The intent of the MMPR are to treat medical marijuana as much as possible as a medication by creating a licensing system for the commercial production of medical marijuana.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Health Canada stopped issuing individuals with licenses to produce marijuana. By March 31, no individuals will be allowed to cultivate medical marijuana in private dwellings.
Those who wish to apply for a commercial medical marijuana license must first notify the local government, police and fire authorities prior to applying to Health Canada. Applicants will have to meet the bylaws of the local jurisdictions, including zoning requirements.
As per the Agricultural Land Commission Act, production of commercial medical marijuana is deemed to be an outright farm use. As a farm use, commercial medical marijuana facilities can’t be prohibited on any ALR lands within the district—only regulated.
But Coun. Duane Ophus pointed to a section in the report that indicated the federal health minister has clarified that applicants will have to meet the bylaws of the local jurisdictions, including zoning requirements.
“That’s a pretty clear indication to me that if we don’t want these things on agricultural land, then they’re not going to be able to license, regardless of what the ALC says,” said Ophus.
“So I don’t think we’re going to have that much of a fight over this with the ALC.”
West Kelowna council was also concerned about the ALC’s proposal that commercial medical marijuana production facilities have a setback of 30 metres from any parcel boundary.
“We have agricultural parcels completely integrated into residential neighbourhoods all over West Kelowna (where) that will be hugely problematic,” said Ophus.
“We can’t have a major commercial operation like this 30 metres from a row of houses.”
Clowes’s report also explains BC Assessment has indicated that the commercial production of medical marijuana may qualify for farm status. Operators may apply to BC Assessment for farm status, even if the operation is not located on agricultural land.
If the operation is granted farm status, the operation will have a reduced tax rate compared to what is currently applied to industrial land.
Council directed staff to write a letter to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and BC Assessment to object to the farm classification of commercial medical marijuana operations.
“We’ve got a plan in place to fight that, and I’m sure there will be plenty of company from every municipality across the province in that regard,” said Ophus.
But Coun. Rick de Jong said the district may be in for a “huge fight” with BC Assessment to change the way they will assess those properties.
“I’m really questioning the rationale of keeping up this fight against the province and the federal government. I think we need to be looking at a way of allowing this on our land, but restricting it and perhaps (putting) a mechanism in place to allow for public hearings so the public can have their input before a medical marijuana facility opens up on agricultural land,” said de Jong.
He added his biggest concern is how existing medical grow operations will be shut down, noting the federal government is naive to believe all individuals will shut down their operations by April 1.
“I want to ensure that they’re decommissioned safely and that those residential homes are going to be safe to live in.”
West Kelowna council will revisit this issue at a public hearing, scheduled for March 11 at 1:30 p.m. at council chambers.