West Kelowna is the first municipality in the Okanagan to tackle the controversial issue of identifying where it wants medicinal marijuana growing operations to be located in future.
The move came in light of announced federal government changes to the medical marijuana growing program that currently allows only licenced individuals to grow pot for medical purposes in their homes as well as in other approved locations.
But under new federal rules, Ottawa will stop issuing individuals with licences to produce marijuana for medical purposes Oct. 1 and, as of March 31, 2014, the cultivation of medical marijuana will no longer be permitted in private dwellings. Licences will now only go to companies.
On Tuesday, West Kelowna council voted 5-2 to only allow licensed grow operations in industrial areas in the future.
“I’m concerned about security,” said Coun. Bryden Winsby, who moved the motion that council supported. “My preference is to keep it in a building where it can be secure.”
But while the council wants licenced growers to only operate out of buildings in industrial areas, the province’s Agricultural Land Commission has said licenced marijuana growing is a recognized farm use and, as such, would be allowed in ALR land.
The ALC’s stance concerned council as it debated Winsby’s motion, with several councillors saying they felt the ALC’s position will trump the district’s desire to see it kept off farm land.
“We may be setting ourselves up for a confrontation with the ALC over this,” warned Mayor Doug Findlater, who supported Winsby’s motion.
Because council’s move will have to go to a public hearing as it requires a zoning amendment, West Kelowna residents will get to weigh in on the issue.
“That will be quite a public hearing,” predicted Coun. Duane Ophus.
No date has been set for the public hearing as staff must first prepare draft regulations for the zoning change.
A staff report prepared for council said while the City of Kamloops has moved ahead with a similar zoning amendment to restrict medical marijuana growing operation to industrial areas there, and Summerland has said it considers medical marijuana growing both an industrial and an agriculture use, none of five other major Okanagan cities—Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Lake Country or Peachland—have made, or are in the process of making, amendments to their existing zoning bylaws.
West Kelowna staff said there are currently four licenced medical marijuana operations in the district, three on industrial-zoned land and the fourth on land zoned commercial.
Only councillors Rick de Jong and David Knowles voted against Winsby’s motion, with de Jong saying he felt it was premature for council to deal it and Knowles saying getting into a fight with the ALC would be a “waste of time.”
But Findlater said he believed council was doing what its collective gut was telling it to do.
“This is pioneering,” he said. “There is no template for how to manage this issue.”
He added the key will be to make sure the pot producers do not bother others around them and that’s why he feels a secure and proper facility in an industrial location is the best place for commercial medical marijuana production.