A Kelowna lawyer is urging the City of Pitt Meadows to rethink its bylaw prohibiting the production of medical marijuana within municipal boundaries.
Jennifer Thorne, a criminal defense lawyer, is representing a client who wants to start a medical marijuana facility in Pitt Meadows. Thorne said because of the sensitive nature of the issue, the client wants to remain anonymous.
Thorne sent a letter to Pitt Meadows council on March 23 and says the bylaw is “likely unconstitutional,” that it infringes upon certain agricultural rights under the Right To Farm Act.
In the letter, Thorne said it’s not within the city’s jurisdiction to create an outright prohibition of the production of medical marijuana on property in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Bylaw 2626 was put in place last March and amended the city’s zoning to prohibit the cultivation, processing, drying, storing, distribution or testing of medical marijuana in all zones of the city.
Thorne said she hopes the city will rethink it’s position as opposed to going down the costly road of court.
“I hope not, certainly that’s always the last resort,” said Thorne, who is a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada.
“You have to appreciate that places like Pitt Meadows enacted their bylaw at a time when things were very new and there was a lot of unknown, so you do the best you can with the information you have.”
Thorne said since the time the bylaw was put in place, a number of issues have been clarified through Health Canada and she believes an impending decision by the provincial minister of agriculture, Norm Letnick, will force the city to change its stance.
However, Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker, also a lawyer, said until the city hears otherwise, the ban will stay in place.
“These facilities are of particular concern to the neighbourhood, even in a rather dispersed farming community,” said Becker. “Growing medical marijuana is a problematic industry right now because of the decades of prohibition and the significant involvement of the criminal element in its production, sale, and distribution. We’re not talking about cranberries.”
Becker said the city is cautious about moving down the road of allowing medical marijuana facilities in its boundaries, but will comply with the legalities as imposed by the provincial government.
“We are taking a wait and see attitude,” he added.
However, Thorne said the regulations being put in place by Health Canada before anyone can open the door on a medical marijuana facility should alleviate the city’s fears.
“The hurdles that an applicant has to meet are so incredibly onerous that only the most sophisticated and well prepared applicant is going to get through and get a licence,” she said. “It’s so heavily regulated that it I understand the fear, and it’s partly because of the history of how medical marijuana production has gone, but I really don’t think there is reason for fear, when you understand how the regulations work in practice. When I say heavily secured, that is a drastic understatement. They’re more secure than banks, you could argue.”
She said any new operation and its owners will be subjected to detailed background checks.
“I can’t say who my client is, but I can say my client fits the bill as a responsible and sophisticated applicant.”