As the federal government holds to its July 1, 2018 date to legalize recreational marijuana, municipalities across the country are grappling with the ripple effects of that change.
In Alberta, Strathcona County has been fielding applications for cannabis-related businesses, including production facilities.
Residents are voicing their concerns at council meetings. The main issue seems to be not “if” or “when” — but “where.”
“These facilities require high amounts of security,” said Amanda Kutz, who lives out by Josephburgh. “Just for example, the application that went next to me was going to require 30 lights on 30-foot poles. It’s 150 metres from my home, so it would have lit up the sky.”
Kutz stressed she’s not anti-marijuana, she just wants rules in place to guide this new industry, specifically where facilities can set up shop — and where they cannot.
“Cannabis is best grown indoors on concrete,” she said. “We don’t need to be building massive infrastructure on our good Grade 1 soil in Strathcona County.”
Last week, Strathcona County passed a motion to look at changing its land-use bylaw to address cannabis production applications.
Councillors approved asking administration to amend the bylaw to define cannabis production facilities and add them to the list of discretionary uses in the medium industrial zoning district.
“There’s a need to address the issue,” Councillor Bill Tonita said on Tuesday.
“We’ve received applications from individuals who want to establish a production facility and it was felt by council that we need to move on this as quickly as possible, except we’re in a vacuum right now.
“The federal government has passed legislation in the House of Commons that hasn’t been passed through the senate. The provincial government is dealing with proposed legislation but municipalities remain in a vacuum. They don’t yet have the tools to move forward.”
Tonita said about 30,000 residents live in the rural areas of Strathcona County and many have said they don’t want these types of facilities approved near their homes.
But Aaron Barr feels the proposed amendment paints all businesses with the same brush.
“What we’re proposing, we need agricultural land. So if Strathcona County says we can only operate in industrial land, then we’re going to another county.”
Barr is the CEO of Canadian Rockies Agricultural Inc. and has applied for a development permit in Strathcona County. The property would host a number of things: outdoor crops, industrial hemp companion gardens, cattle, sheep, as well as cannabis.
“Putting this type of an agriculture business on industrial land just doesn’t make sense for us,” Barr said. “The county is pigeonholing themselves in saying, ‘Yeah, we support these developments but we want industrial-style growing.'”
He hopes the county will consider working with the planning and development department on how individual applications are approved or denied, based on the type of business.
“Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Allow at least the possibility for diversification in this industry and allow for different producers, understand that there’s warehouse-style growing and there’s agricultural-style growing,” Barr said.
“It’s such a new industry, don’t close the door on it yet.”
Kutz, on the other hand, supports the move to only allow cannabis production facilities in medium industrial areas.
“I do not consider this agriculture; nor does the federal government,” she said.
“Us, as residents, have been dealing with this for quite some time, trying to get some discussions done. The motion will allow discussions for a public hearing to pull cannabis-related discussions out of intensive horticulture and give it its own land use and allow it in medium industrial areas,” Kutz said.
A public hearing for the bylaw will take place on Jan. 23, 2018.
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The county hopes these changes would provide more clarity for any potential applicants as well as potential neighbours in terms of what kind of business is submitting the application and where it might operate.
“There have been a few applications for production of medical cannabis in the county and we’re thinking we need to, we know we need to have a consistent and fair policy bylaw for our industry to move forward but we also have to provide clarity to our residents,” Councillor Paul Smith said.
The mayor said this has been a hot topic of late.
“There’s a lot of concern, angst perhaps, about this new industry,” Mayor Rod Frank said. “People want to make sure their neighbourhoods remain safe. At the same time, we want business to progress in the county.
“We’re trying to strike that balance right now. We’re grappling with some of these issues. We think this is the best way to go forward, that’s why the motion was introduced and passed.”
Administration will present the cannabis-related amendments to the land-use bylaw to council during the Jan. 23 public hearing.
“It drew a lot of attention and it does raise concern,” Frank said. “It is a brand new industry and it is not something that’s been done before, certainly not in this country, so yes, we call it a hot button issue.”