Land commission gives nod to medical pot

District adjusting bylaw to direct grow ops to Agricultural Land Reserve

Medical pot is coming, whether Maple Ridge likes it not.

So staff are suggesting the district make the best of it and set some rules for where marijuana can be grown in Maple Ridge.

A recent announcement by the Agricultural Land Commission clarifying that growing medical marijuana is a permitted use in the land reserve confirms that Maple Ridge couldn’t stop the process even if it wanted to.

“It just makes sense. We can’t prohibit it anyways,” planner Diana Hall told council on Monday.

“I think there’s good reason to be optimistic about this new approach. I think this approach will force legitmacy,” on something that’s had a criminal past, Hall added.

Maple Ridge had rolled out a bylaw earlier this year that would have directed medical pot into its agricultural zones both within and outside the Agricultural Land Reserve. The idea was largely roasted by rural residents at a public hearing in April.

But after council received more information, second reading of the bylaw will be rescinded and staff will restart the process and tweak the bylaw to direct pot growing to only within the Agricultural Land Reserve, reflecting the commission’s comments.

However, the limits will on medicinal pot operations will be the same as in the previous bylaw. Medicinal grows have to be at least 200 metres from schools and if there is more than one medical grow, it can’t be any closer than a kilometre to another grow.

Each pot-growing building be set back from the rear and side property lines at least 30 metres and be 60 metres from the front.

Hall told council that if such conditions were met, medical marijuana grows would have to be allowed and wouldn’t even have to come to council, with only a building permit required.

Coun. Michael Morden said the ALC statement was a major shift, but that the proposed bylaw is “better than what we’ve got now.”

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. Buildings would all have to meet filtration standards.

Coun. Bob Masse added that Ottawa also recently announced it wouldn’t limit the number of medical grow operations.

And Coun. Corisa Bell wanted to know if there will be a set of policies to follow when the public has concerns about safety and if more police would be needed and whether the district should write a letter about possible downloading of safety and enforcement costs on to cities.

That was an excelllent question, said chief administrative officer Jim Rule, although not all the details are available yet.

Maple Ridge fire chief Dane Spence said a marijuana production building will be considered as any other building when it comes to fire safety and didn’t expect an increase in workload in fire inspections. “It will be another building to us at this point.”

Favouring the grow ops in farmland has the district at odds with the Lower Mainland Local Government Association which wants to put the pot plants in industrial areas instead of on scarce farmland.

A public hearing on the new law could take place in August and the new bylaw could be in place as soon as October.

Residents at the April public hearing were worried about health and safety issues, which could still be concerns. Maple Ridges agricultural zoned land that’s outside the ALR is generally designated rural residential, meaning country homes on plots as little as two acres eventually could be situated next to grow ops in the ALR.

Generally, speaking the medical grow operations would be taxed at farm property rates.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the shift last December in Maple Ridge last December.

“Under our new rule, only facilities that meet strict security requirements will be able to produce marijuana for medical purposes,” Aglukkaq said.