Nearby production of marijuana could change downtown Pitt Meadows for the worse, says Mayor John Becker. (THE NEWS/files)

Pitt Meadows lobbying against greenhouse grow-ops

Mayor Becker says cities should have a veto

Pitt Meadows council is hoping to avoid problems with the smell of marijuana wafting through the city and those with growers.

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy attended council on Tuesday, Sept. 4 to speak about federal issues, and touched a nerve when he spoke about legalization of recreational marijuana.

Ruimy said the legislation was to take effect in June, but the provinces asked Ottawa to wait until October, so they could be ready.

Mayor John Becker expressed his reservations, noting that the urban core of the city is surrounded by farmland, including greenhouses that could be converted into the newly legalized cash crop.

“Depending on the conversion of those greenhouses and the prevailing winds, our urban core could become, in large measure, uninhabitable,” said Becker. “It’s just absolutely unacceptable.”

He noted the provincial Ministry of Agriculture is going to treat marijuana growers similarly to other farmers.

“For us, the real question that has not been answered is the dichotomy, the conflict, between the Right to Farm legislation and the Ministry of Agriculture’s position that cannabis is a farm crop and, as such, they are mandated to promote its production just like tulips and peppers and corn,” said Becker.

He added that the province shows reluctance to allow local governments to stop pot growing from properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“The ministry’s position is that under the Right to Farm legislation that our public has to put up with normal industry standards of inconvenience for legitimate farming operations,” said Becker. “This is brand new, so there are no standards.”

He said the most common complaints about growing marijuana are odour, light pollution, issues with security and the “constant drone of fans.

“What we don’t see, and, frankly, have no faith in [is] the federal authority’s willingness to enforce their own regulations,” which say the grow-ops are to be protected from unauthorized access, visually monitored, outfitted with filtration to prevent the escape of odours.

Becker said it is virtually impossible to outfit greenhouses with a filtration system that will not allow escape of odours.

“Our residents are concerned, they’re angry and they’re afraid, and that is not a good mix,” Becker told Ruimy. “It is great to know you are on our side.”

Ruimy explained the federal government is responsible for the legislation and issuing growing permits through Health Canada.

He agreed odours have been a problem in Maple Ridge and the Langley area, and said he is not convinced the complaint resolution process is working. Before growers get a permit, they must have an odour protection system in place, adding that is the No. 1 issue.

“I don’t know that we have the right system in place at this point,” Ruimy said.

Ruimy also said the legislation will be improved, but there are still questions.

“Are we going to allow good food farming land to be replaced entirely by marijuana crop?” asked Ruimy. “I think we have it in our arsenal to say no.”

Audience member Ariane Jaschke, who has announced her intention to run for Pitt Meadows council, asked Ruimy whether there are any positives.

“Is it all negative?” she asked. “We do have other smells around the community that are gross,” citing farming and water treatment across the river

“It’s an economic driver, right, so there are jobs attached to it,” said Ruimy. “There’s money to be had there.”

He said marijuana being sold as a regulated product will also be safer, and coming from a reliable source.

Ruimy noted the revenue stream from marijuana taxation is to be split between the provinces and Ottawa.

However, cities will be asking Victoria for a piece of the pie. A Union of B.C. Municipalities resolution says local governments should be reimbursed for costs associated with legalization of cannabis, for policing costs, and also a share in the $125 million in tax revenue the province expects.

Becker said after the meeting he will lobby senior government to get cities a share of cannabis tax to deal with issues arising from legalization.

“Those issues wind up on the streets outside of my office,” said Becker.

He said there are approximately 20 greenhouses in Pitt Meadows that would impact downtown residents if converted to marijuana cultivation, and he wants the city to be able to veto their licensing.

“I will be demanding that city approval be required,” he said.

He has met with senior Ministry of Agriculture officials, and has asked to meet with Agriculture Minister Lana Popham at the UBCM convention, taking place next week. He has been invited to meet with Mike Farnworth, the minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

He will speak about the right to farm regulations as it relates to cannabis.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare said she has heard complaints about potential grow-op smells in Pitt Meadows, and the government is considering the new regulations.

“Pitt Meadows residents are very passionate about their ALR land and protecting it,” she said, adding that council has also done a good job of preserving farmland.

She said the province has already made changes that give local governments authority over marijuana production on farmland, but changes could still be coming.

“These are ongoing regulatory changes we are looking at,” said Beare.

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