No support at public hearing for Medical Marijuana proposal

SLRD Bylaw 1300 containing provisions for Medical Marijuana Production Facilities (MMPFs) got a cold reception at a Feb. 18 public hearing in Lillooet.

None of the 12 people at the hearing spoke in favour of the bylaw; instead several questioned why the marijuana provisions needed to be introduced at this time since – by the SLRD’s own admission - no one has applied for an MMPF license  in Area B.

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Several alternative provisions were proposed to the bylaw, and some people commented that while local governments may not legally prohibit MMPFs in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), they may restrict them, and they are not required to allow them on properties outside of the ALR.

Under the terms of Bylaw 1300, a medical marijuana facility would be permitted in all Rural Resource Zones. In the ALR, the minimum parcel size would be 100 hectares (247 acres).  For properties outside the ALR, the minimum parcel size would be only 10 hectares.

The maximum floor area of the facility – the marijuana would be grown and stored indoors under controlled conditions – would be 2,500 square metres (26,909 sq. ft.). 

SLRD staff said Feb. 18 the facility would not be allowed to include a laboratory or processing operations.

Fort Berens Estate Winery owner Rolf de Bruin said the 100-hectare limit was “not a big deal” and could lead to a situation where scarce agricultural land in Area B could be tied up by MMPFs.

“If you want to discourage it, why not set the minimum parcel size at 10,000 hectares? There is not a single parcel that is that big, but at least it will effectively discourage it; there will be no medical marijuana facility in this area,” said de Bruin.

He said the alternative would be to risk the floodgates opening if/when federal regulations are changed. “There could be a floodgate of applications that swallow up a thousand acres of prime agricultural land. I don’t understand why you would want to risk that.”

SLRD Director of Planning and Development Kim Needham replied, “The problem for the SLRD is we’re not allowed to ban it in the ALR. They have decided medical marijuana is farm use. We’ve had several legal opinions and our communities have been grappling with it. Basically, we’ve been advised that we should not be prohibiting it as a farm use. If we did that, we would be butting up against the Agricultural Land Commission.”

Needham added, “We are caught in a bit of a bind between what we might want to do and what we have to do.”

“You’re risking agricultural land and you think it’s unlikely and you think it’s not going to happen,” de Bruin continued. “I understand that you cannot ban it, but there’s got to be another approach where you’re not going to put agricultural land at risk. That’s what you’re doing – you’re gambling with the fact that someone is not going to do something based on your bylaw and I think gambling agricultural land is the last thing we want to do in this area.”

Former SLRD Area B Director Sheila McLean said she agreed with de Bruin that the minimum parcel size should be increased. “Put a 1,000 acre minimum limit on it, put a hundred thousand acre-limit on it. Put whatever you want. That is not a ban. It’s a deterrent certainly and probably a very effective one, but it’s not a ban.”

McLean also said it isn’t clear whether “this is farming or industrial or commercial use for zoning purposes.”

She suggested a better option would be to establish a separate zone with its own regulations specifically for MMPFs, but “don’t designate any properties (with that zone).”

“You’re not banning it, you’ve zoned for it, we just don’t have any,” said McLean. “And if you get an application to establish an MMPF here, a rezoning application gives the board, staff and neighbouring property owners a say in the matter. It would also buy some time to get clarification of some of the fuzzy areas I’ve mentioned and to develop some board OCP (Official Community Plan) policies for this area, with further public consultation on the whole issue.”

McLean said she believed MMPFs are an urgent matter. “I live next door to a large collection of parcels in the ALR for sale for $13.5 million, which really isn’t that much to the people and corporations we could be dealing with here. There’s nothing to preclude a licensed MMPF from expanding into Area B by purchasing those lands, so it is urgent.”

Following up on McLean and de Bruin’s comments, Pavilion Lake resident Kent   Munday suggested that if the concern is to protect farm land, MMPFs would be better addressed under Commercial or Industrial zoning, rather than Agricultural zoning.

“These are industries, they definitely are commercial, so why not have another zoning bylaw to enable that as a permitted use, with scrutiny from Health Canada? You could protect agricultural land, but you could offer an alternative to make sure people don’t encroach on agricultural land.”

Area B Director Mickey Macri said the board was told, “’Thou shalt be ag’ and that’s it.”

Munday replied, “It comes down to money. These are business propositions. If they don’t have to spend $15 million on a piece of agricultural land they’re never going to use and if they can lease or purchase a commercial piece of property, money talks. That’s what they will do.”

 “Why did you set this process up to make it easy?” for MMPFs, asked Texas Creek Road resident Jane Duber. “Why didn’t you set it up to make it hard?”

“We cannot restrict,” said Macri.

“Yes you can,” said McLean. “The ALC explicitly says you cannot prohibit. But you can restrict.” 

Needham told the public hearing that the decisions on the Medical Marijuana zoning were not made by the regional board alone – input was also obtained from the Agricultural Advisory Committee and a Steering Committee.

She also said bylaws for other rural areas in the SLRD allow for MMPFs. Needham said they are legal businesses that create jobs and the SLRD did not want to exclude Area B from having the same economic opportunities as other rural areas.

Other sections of the proposed bylaw were also criticized, including a provision calling for new homes to be set back a maximum of 50 metres from the highway/road and a provision for fence height requirements.

Rolf de Bruin said there are “more logical” building locations in Area B on sites that are either on a slope with a view or not arable. He suggested the setback provision could lead to houses being built on the best flat agricultural land nearest the highway. “There are dozens of examples where the roadside is one of the best pieces to farm,” said de Bruin.

Barb Tuemp pointed out that people in the Texas Creek Road area tend to build their homes close to a domestic water source.

“Farmland is very scarce anyway; I think this bylaw would apply more to the Pemberton Valley where everything is flat,” said Tuemp. “The one thing that is really important here is the water. You don’t have farmland if you don’t have water.”

 “We hear you, we hear you,” said Needham, adding that those provisions would be reviewed before the zoning bylaw goes back to the regional board.

The Feb. 18 public hearing was the last opportunity for public input to the SLRD Board on the proposed bylaw.

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