Setbacks will be a setback to medical marijuana production on industrial land within the District of Sicamous.
This was the argument presented last week to municipal council by legal counsel for Waterway Houseboats during a public hearing on proposed zoning amendments to accommodate medical marijuana production within the district.
Lawyer Jeff Robinson of the firm Rush Ihas Hardwick, told council the zoning changes being considered, particularly the proposed increased setbacks, intended to address security, access, noise and odour concerns, could prevent Waterway from making its former manufacturing facility available for the production of medicinal marijuana under new federal regulations.
“That facilty is no longer needed for houseboat operations. My client is aware of a tenant that would potentially use that facility for licensed production of medical marijuana,” said Robinson, noting the facility would be a legal operation, compliant with the new federal regulations. “However, the proposed zoning text bylaw would prohibit my client from using that existing land for that purpose. And the reason it would prohibit it is because of the setbacks and the minimum lot size.”
The hearing began with an explanation by district community planning officer Mike Marrs of the proposed zoning amendments and how they were determined. He said a lot of information forming the new Marijuana for Medical Purposes regulation is still being processed and, therefore, he found there are a lot of unknowns for municipalities that, like Sicamous, are attempting to put bylaws in place to address the potential of medical marijuana facilities coming to the community.
Marrs said local governments have the ability to regulate marijuana production facilities and direct such uses to specific zones. Staff recommended to council that marijuana production be restricted to lands zoned general industrial, and large holdings if within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“We don’t have a lot of the land (industrial), but staff has had a couple of inquiries in terms of production facilities within industrial areas and these amendments are to try to bring about some regulation within our bylaws so that council can regulate the applications…,” said Marrs.
Not having any precedents to draw from, Marrs said staff considered regulations applicable to the location of hog production facilities, “which allow greater setback areas to try and control odour and keep those type of facilities away from residential areas or adjoining schools or park areas.”
For medical marijuana operations on properties zoned for large holdings, staff recommended a setback of 30 metres, and 60 metres where the operation is adjacent to residences, schools or parks and other public/institutional uses. For land zoned general industrial, setbacks of 15 or 30 metres were proposed.
So far as these setbacks are to control odour, noise and security, Robinson called them redundant with the new federal regulations, which he said provide strict guidelines.
“I would submit to council there is no need for increased setbacks to control odour, when the government regulation – which we can assume is going to be enforced quite strictly – is going to address that problem for council,” said Robinson, explaining his client has suffered financially as of late and the setbacks would potentially deny them an opportunity to “create a more stable source of income and diversify operations based on property it already has.”
“What seems to me to be happening here is, if there is going to be medical marijuana production in Sicamous… this bylaw will drive it into the ALR,” said Robinson. “And that, I submit, is not a good thing for this community. If you look what other communities are doing on this issue, their primary concern is having massive factories directed into ALR land… Don’t be mistaken here. Medical marijuana production is not farming. This is big production.”
Marrs noted that applicants for whom the setbacks don’t work could pursue a variance, a point that was later reiterated by Coun. Don Richardson prior to council approving the zoning amendments.
“I think what this is doing is setting a generic pattern, shall we say, to open the doors to these considerations…,” said Richardson. “Again, my concern is a lot of the impacts it could have with all these partial legitimate operations at this time. And Health Canada on one hand is saying don’t smoke cigarettes, but now they turn to us and say, you can do marijuana. So, it’s real confusing.”