The province has given the green light for medical marijuana to be produced in the Agricultural Land Reserve, despite objections from some cities, including Pitt Meadows.
“We will have to modify our blanket prohibitory bylaw, and meet provincial standards,” said Mayor John Becker.
He noted council still has to review the new regulations set out by the provincial government.
Along with the formal change to the ALR regulation making medical cannabis an allowed use is a standard that municipalities are expected to follow, in passing local bylaws, to control any federally licensed commercial pot producers within city boundaries. The province’s bylaw standard sets out setbacks from streams and property lines, a maximum footprint size for the facility, and minimum distances from parks, schools and urban or ALR boundaries.
Becker said the nature of marijuana production lends itself better to light industrial properties, rather than farmland. And, he said many people – from municipal politicians to Pitt Meadows citizens – worry that these operations will attract criminal behaviour.
“My concern is that this is not like growing flowers or peppers,” said Becker.
Jennifer Thorne is a Kelowna lawyer who represents a client wanting to establish a medicinal marijuana operation in Pitt Meadows, and called the government’s decision a win for that client.
“This is the release we’ve been waiting for,” she said, adding that municipalities will now be able to develop more thoughtful bylaws, rather than attempting outright prohibition.
“It’s very helpful, both to local governments and producers,” she said. “I don’t envy local governments for having to deal with this.”
Thorne said she understands that some people are apprehensive, but said medicinal marijuana is being promoted by sophisticated business people with backgrounds in agriculture and science.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, one of the municipal leaders who opposed allowing the construction of heavily fortified pot factories on ALR land, said Friday he is studying the new rules.
Froese said the province appears to have taken into account many issues raised by municipalities, but added he is still concerned cities will face higher costs to regulate the facilities and police country roads.
Langley Township has already set a business licence fee of $5,000 for medical marijuana producers and Froese hopes that won’t have to change.
“That gives us some control over inspection and that’s important,” he said. “Medical marijuana, as far as I’m concerned, is a pharmaceutical. It’s a lot different than just growing tomatoes.”
Under the provincial rules, pot producers on ALR land will still have to pay industrial property tax rates, not the lower agricultural rate.
The agricultural ministry expects all local bylaws to comply with the standard and the amended regulation by early fall, adding it sought to ensure as much ALR land is used for agriculture as possible while balancing other requirements.
– with files by Jeff Nagel