Waters: Without final say, cities are trying to deal with legal pot growing plans

Health Canada, not local municipalities, have the final say in allowing commercial marijuana production facilities.

They likely won’t all be approved, but according to Kelowna city staff, there are 15 proposals to build commercial medical marijuana facilities in the city.

None have received the much sought after licence required from Health Canada under the new federal rules that went into effect last March. But it is the feds, not the city, that gets the final say on whether those pot plants will be allowed to get up and running here.

For the groups that want to start to commercially grow that wacky-tobacci, a trip to city hall will not be enough.

While the city does get a say in the land use decisions for the site of proposed commercial grow ops through zoning, Ottawa has made sure it alone maintains the final say in who gets to grow pot legally in this country.

So municipalities are looking to exert their influence in other ways.

An example of that was seen in West Kelowna last week, where the district council  rejected a variance request by one group planning to build a facility in the industrial area of the municipality. Hearing from commercial neighbours of the proposed site—a helicopter builder and mattress factory—council rejected the request to reduce the setback required for the building to 75 metres from 150 metres to the nearest zones where homes are permitted.

The fact a four-lane highway separated the proposed lot from the area with the homes didn’t sway council’s thinking. The council said it was concerned about the potential for odour in the neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, in Kelowna, a different tack appears to be taking place. City council has sent a bid to change the industrial zones where commercial growing facilities are allowed to public hearing. The change would allow for laboratories to test the pot once its grown. Ah, cannabis quality control.

In the case of a city the size of Kelowna, 15 proposals seems like a lot.

It’s not quite akin to the deluge of beer and wine store proposals that sprang up when the province opened the floodgate to that enterprise across B.C. several years ago, but it’s still more than your average white-bread, conservative Okanagan town of 120,000 people likely want, will support, need or will otherwise have.

Of course the total volume of pot to be produced is likely going to be a lot less than it was when every Tom, Dick or Harriet was growing it in their basement—with or without a licence—under the old way of doing things. Maybe a lot of those same people still are growing it for themselves.

But it shows that the interest in commercial marijuana production in this province is strong—strong enough to spark the interest of 15 companies willing to spend a lot of money to meet the new federal standards for a production facility.

As for the other end of the joint—recreational use—this province is still likely a long ways off following Washington State and Colorado’s lead in making pot legal.

But with public opinion on the issue being what it is and acceptance now the position of many, whether it’s for medical or recreational use, pot is becoming a drug of choice .

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.


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