Plans to allow medical pot operations in Maple Ridge farm areas got a rough ride Tuesday at a hearing held to sound out the public’s views.
“Somebody makes a mistake and the next thing you know you have a Bacon-like … at your doorstep with an AK-47,” Ken Stewart told council.
The former councillor and MLA was worried about crime associated with marijuana production as well as fire, safety and odour problems.
The federal government is phasing out thousands of personal-use medical marijuana grow licences in favour of fewer, larger operations, with the new regulations coming into force in April 2014.
Stewart lives in on a rural area in north Maple Ridge and says two medical grow operations nearby are decreasing real estate values.
He claimed Maple Ridge already has more than 500 grow operations and that the district simply has the option of banning any medical pot grows, adding the bylaw doesn’t deal with most of the marijuana-grow operations that are run for recreational use.
“I certainly don’t see it as fixing the problem.” The legislation does nothing with 90 per cent of the grows ops running today, he added later.
“So what are they going to do with them?”
People aren’t against the concept, but just wanted the size of parcels for medical marijuana productions increased and to ensure they don’t go in rural residential areas.
And what will happen to current medical marijuana producers who will see their licences supposedly phased out?
Instead, Stewart likes Coquitlam’s approach which directs medical marijuana operations to site-specific industrial areas.
Terry Dumas had similar thoughts.
“This bylaw as it’s written, is a really, really bad idea.” More work and discussion is needed to deal with odour, security and waste treatment concerns, she added.
She also wanted wider setbacks between medical grow op buildings and neighbouring properties.
“I really don’t have any faith in the district’s ability to control this. Once the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s not going back.”
Fellow Cedar Way resident Terry Bianco said pot grow operations also create fire hazards while the grounds look like Fort Knox. “It’s a disruption in the area.”
But local contractor Ken Kelleway says new medical marijuana facilities will have to meet stringent Health Canada requirements, unlike the existing grows that draw complaints. Standards have to be maintained in order to pass regular inspections or operators won’t get their medical licences renewed.
Security measures have to satisfy local police.
“There is not one, single … grow in Maple Ridge that meets the new requirements.”
Kelleway, on behalf of Leaf Cross Biomedical in Vancouver, is trying to build a medical-marijuana growing facility somewhere in the Lower Mainland.
But Maple Ridge is its first location.
“Right now, none of the cities – they’re months behind Maple Ridge in the decision-making process.”
Although a location has yet to be found, Kelleway would like to put in a 26,000 sq. feet building. That could be expanded depending on how the legislation evolves.
But there’s no guarantee. A more suitable spot could be found elsewhere. With fewer than 100 licences planned for across Canada, Maple Ridge may not even be chosen for a facility.
Other municipalities “are interested in that kind of money being spent in their municipalities and the job creation and all the money coming down from it.
“It would be like a large-scale distillery opening in Maple Ridge. Would anyone really have an issue? It’s government licenced. It’s creating jobs. This is no different.”
Kelleway says he’s checked out the company and wants to get involved after seeing how medical marijuana has helped friends and family. He doesn’t smoke marijuana.
Now that medical marijuana is legal, “it makes sense to me.”
Kelleway said a building would work just as well in an industrial area, which could make more sense instead of putting a building on farmland. If an operation was allowed, it would be taxed at industrial rather than agricultural rates.
Maple Ridge has given two readings to a bylaw which will require 60-metre setbacks from agricultural property lines for buildings that produce medical marijuana. The operations also have to be more than 200 metres from any school. Council considers third reading at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the change, eliminating small medical-marijuana operations in Maple Ridge last December, a planned shift to a new system of federally regulated commercial producers of medical pot who will supply authorized users with prescriptions from doctors.
“Under our new rule, only facilities that meet strict security requirements will be able to produce marijuana for medical purposes,” Aglukkaq said.
A medical marijuana producer who only gave his first name who grows small amounts for his dad also wanted to apply. “I feel there’s a lot of hostitility based on misinformation. This is going to be a highly regulated business,” responsible to municipal and federal governments. Neighbours don’t even know he’s growing pot because there is no smell, said Doug.