North Cowichan is moving forward with plans to allow non-medical marijuana production facilities in its industrial zones for the first time.
Since the legalization of recreational pot across Canada last October, the municipality has seen an influx of inquiries related to establishing non-medical pot production facilities, and council gave the first two readings on Jan. 16 to a bylaw amendment that would allow recreational pot production in industrial zones.
There are two medical marijuana production facilities operating in industrial-zoned areas of North Cowichan.
While the bylaw currently only permits cannabis production for medicinal purposes in industrial zones, recreational and medical pot production facilities are now indistinguishable under the new regulation regime from a federal licensing perspective, so staff have recommended that the municipality allow generic marijuana facilities in its light and heavy industrial zones.
Council has also instructed staff to prepare a report on its options with updating its policies on marijuana production facilities in the municipality’s agricultural land reserve now that the regulatory regime has changed, and the fact that the Agricultural Land Commission has recently adopted some regulatory changes that are more restrictive.
North Cowichan allowed medical marijuana growing facilities on its ALR lands for the first time in 2017 when new federal regulations were implemented.
But 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 medicinal pot 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.
There are currently no marijuana production facilities of any kind in North Cowichan’s ALR.
At the meeting on Jan. 16, Isabel Rimmer, president of the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association, cautioned council that pot-production facilities on ALR land could bring with them significant light, noise and smell pollution.
“The SNA hopes these issues will be considered by the municipality during the approval process for any applications it receives for these facilities on ALR land,” she said. “We believe the municipality should have a robust bylaw in place to deal with these applications.”
Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning, reiterated that from a land-use perspective, the municipality’s industrial zoned lands are the preferred sites for pot-production facilities, and issues like noise and smell are covered under the zoning bylaw for those areas.
“We have a lot of questions on marijuana production in the ALR, and that’s why we asked for a staff report before any decisions are made,” said North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring.
Staff have also been instructed to prepare a report on options for allowing “micro-cannabis” production facilities in zones other than industrial. A micro facility is permitted only up to 200 square metres of space for production, much smaller than standard production operations.