B.C. council moves to push medical pot production to agricultural areas

VANCOUVER – A metro Vancouver district council is moving to nip a problem in the bud by regulating where medical marijuana can be grown.

A newly drafted Maple Ridge, B.C., bylaw proposes that commercial medical marijuana production be permitted only in agricultural zones in an effort to stop marijuana growth in residential areas.

The bylaw attempts to address issues that can come with residential grow operations such as electrical fires, waste, environmental concerns and the drug’s diversion into the illegal market.

Commercial marijuana facilities would face the same building restrictions as other pungent industries such as pig farms or mushroom barns, with requirements to be at least 30 metres from rear lot lines and 60 metres from front lot lines.

Grow operations would also need to be at least 200 metres away from any elementary or secondary school due to on-going odour complaints of residential growers operating too close to schools.

District planner Diana Hall said it’s believed that Maple Ridge is the first district in B.C. to draft a bylaw of this nature.

“The sense is that there have been a fair number of problems associated with this use in other areas, even industrial, because you’ve got a multi-tenanted structure. It can cause problems,” said Hall, who drafted the bylaw.

“The thought is that locating it in an agricultural zone will be an improvement.”

The draft bylaw presented to council members this week, said the changes would be timely because “recent history has revealed the potential adverse health and safety, social, environmental and law-enforcement implications of marijuana production in the community. However, if this use is directed into appropriate zones, with the requirement of appropriate security measures, these impacts may be minimized.”

The bylaw has yet to be voted on by council, but Hall is confident it will pass and make it to the public hearing stage.

“I don’t know how the rest of the community will respond, of course,” she said.

In the wake of rapid changes to federal marijuana legislation — the current system of existing personal-use licenses — many logistics of the bylaw have yet to be sorted out.

The bylaw is in anticipation of a summer 2014 change when federal licenses handed out for medical-grow facilities are expected to be geared toward large-scale, rather than personal, production.

But Craig Speirs, a former Maple Ridge councillor, believes the municipal government is overreacting to having some control after years of medical cannabis growers being left to their own devices.

“They treat it like, ‘oh all these people want to do is get high,’ and they don’t understand the dynamics at play and the amount this industry is going to grow, in all meanings of the word.”

Speirs said a lot of sick people on medical marijuana are broke, and the added financial burden of not being able to grow their own medicine could have a pronounced impact on their lives.

“The people who are actually most affected will be hurt as usual.”

He also disagrees with the limitation to agricultural zones.

“If you want things to be secure, you don’t isolate them. You bring them out into the middle where there are a lot of eyes on the street, and where there’s a lot of ability to apply security options,” he said.

“It’s an industrial thing, really. It could easily exist within an industrial area and create more economic activity than anything else happening in that industrial area. And jobs.”

Before commercial licensing is a reality, Health Canada may give permission to growers to do research and development on marijuana crops.

“(People) couldn’t just start growing, they’d have to get federal approval for anything to do with it. At the research and development stage, they’d have to get approval from Health Canada,” said Hall.

“We stipulated throughout the bylaw, ‘the commercial production of medicinal marijuana as authorized under federal legislation,’ so it’s only what’s authorized under federal legislation.”