The Town of Oliver says it’s open for business, even if it means siting a medical marijuana production facility here.
That was the message last week when council agreed to consider any application to locate a federally licensed marijuana facility in Oliver. Such cultivation would be considered as an agricultural use and be restricted to these zones (or site-specific use).
Municipal Manager Tom Szalay said the Town received an enquiry from a southern Alberta caller asking if Oliver would consider such an application.
Last year the federal government announced changes to the way Canadians will be able to access marijuana for medical purposes. Szalay said the new regulations are expected to be finalized this spring and take effect next year. In the meantime, Health Canada is working on rules governing how individuals can legally possess or produce marijuana for medical purposes. These licences will allow people to apply for special permits to grow their own supply of marijuana or grow it for someone else.
“Personally, I’m not sure if we want this,” said Councillor Jack Bennest. “Do we really want to get into this game?”
Fellow Councillor Dave Mattes said this is the ultimate question: “Do we want this type of business in Oliver?”
But water councillor Rick Machial said the Town should not turn its back on business and potential jobs. “Just because it’s marijuana doesn’t make it bad.” Fellow councillor Andre Miller said he doesn’t see anything wrong with it, adding it’s no different than growing mushrooms.
But Szalay said the Town’s zoning does not contemplate this type of use. But Councillor Linda Larson said they could deal with any application as a one-off (one time) proposal as opposed to changing the bylaw.
Regional district planner Christopher Garrish said a temporary use permit can be considered as well. He pointed out that marijuana is deemed an agricultural crop.
Szalay explained the government’s intention is to get marijuana production out of people’s garages and into facilities where they can be monitored and controlled. He noted such a facility in Oliver would look like any industrial building with a chain link fence and TV cameras for security.
Szalay reminded council about the property taxes the Town would receive if a facility located here.
For example, if a $500,000 building was constructed, the taxes would be $2,664.94, however, that would drop to $854 if the operation received a farm status. He noted BC Assessment indicates it would qualify as a farm operation.
Szalay confirmed that such a facility would not allow end users on site purchasing marijuana. Whatever is produced would be shipped out.
Mattes said the Town should welcome such a business here, noting he doesn’t see more risk compared to the new correctional centre coming to Oliver.
Council requested Szalay to contact the interested parties and let them know the Town is open for business and will consider their application.
Szalay explained that Health Canada is not required under the Medical Marijuana Access Regulation to notify local governments of issued licences within the local jurisdiction.
“Therefore, the local government has no knowledge of the operation and is not able to inspect the operations to ensure they are in compliance with building, fire and electrical safety regulations, or to confirm that the operation is a permitted use in the zoning bylaw.”
Szalay said local governments typically become aware of medical marijuana operations after investigating complaints from neighbours or through the RCMP.
The district of Sechelt recently rejected a zoning amendment that would have permitted commercial production facilities in industrial zones, but excluded them from residential and agricultural zones.
The city of Coquitlam adopted zoning amendments that limit such facilities to industrial zones, while reinforcing that personal production of medical marijuana is permitted in all residential zones.
Szalay confirmed the Town has not received an application, only a query.
Under the existing zoning regulations, such an operation would only be permitted in an agricultural zone. However, Szalay said the use may better fit into the industrial zone. Before this can happen, the permitted uses in the industrial zone or at least on one property would have to be changed to allow this use.
He noted that council resolves to exclude any marijuana production facilities from residential zones.
In support of their proposal, the proponent stated the facility will be inspected by Health Canada prior to receiving a licence and at any point thereafter to ensure safety and health standards.
Security will include 24-hour video surveillance, and air filtration requirements will ensure there are no odours emitted from the operation.