Federal regulations prohibiting marijuana production in North Cowichan’s Agricultural Land Reserve in structures with concrete bases are welcome to the municipality’s council.
In a report to council, community planner Mairi Bosomworth said that, while the municipality now defines marijuana production in the ALR as a “farm use” in accordance with federal regulations, additional regulatory changes have since been adopted by the Agricultural Land Commission that place more restrictive requirements on marijuana-production facilities in the ALR.
She said that pot production is now designated by the ALC to be a “farm use” in a number of circumstances; including outdoors in a field, inside a structure that has a base consisting entirely of soil, inside a structure that had been, before July 13, 2018, constructed for the purpose of growing crops, and in an existing licensed operation.
Last April, North Cowichan’s previous council sent a letter to Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham reiterating the municipality’s long-standing preference against the siting of marijuana-growing operations on ALR land, with a preferred alternative of siting them on industrially-zoned lands where possible.
The letter also stated that if pot production is allowed in the ALR, North Cowichan should be granted authority to establish development permit requirements to address the siting of these facilities to reduce their impact.
One of the major concerns council had with placing pot operations on ALR land is the loss of farmland to cement-based, industrial-style, cannabis-production bunkers.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said at the council meeting on April 3 that the federal regulations not allowing pot operations in cement-based structures is “heartening” to him.
“I’ve been ranting for some time that losing productive farmland to these operations is not good public policy,” he said.
“Their base must be soil so, at the end of the day, if the operations fails, the property will stay as farmland. This is a very positive step in the right direction.”
There are currently no marijuana production facilities of any kind in North Cowichan’s ALR.
North Cowichan allowed medical marijuana growing facilities on its ALR lands for the first time in 2017 when new federal regulations were implemented.
The decision was made reluctantly after North Cowichan, and other B.C. municipalities, were sent a set of guidelines from the ministry that local governments are encouraged to follow in adopting bylaws for marijuana growing facilities.
Council also decided at its meeting on April 3 to give the first and second reading to a bylaw amendment to allow “micro-cannabis” production facilities in some of its commercial areas.
Micro-cannabis production facilities are only allowed up to 200 square metres of space for production, much smaller than standard and much larger production operations which are typically around 14,000 square metres.