B.C. communities given power to block cannabis ‘bunkers’ on agricultural land

Cannabis plants intended for the medical marijuana market grow at OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., in an April 14, 2016, file photo.
Cannabis plants intended for the medical marijuana market grow at OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., in an April 14, 2016, file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward, File

The B.C. government has given cities and First Nations new powers to restrict cannabis production on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

A number of municipalities, including Surrey and Delta, had raised concerns that a flood of new cannabis producers into agricultural areas could displace food farmers, while transforming former farm lands into a patchwork of concrete and greenhouses.

The concerns prompted the Union of BC Municipalities to ask the province for a moratorium on new cannabis production in ALR lands until the idea could undergo review.

LISTEN: Delta mayor worried about cannabis production on farmland

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On Friday, the government amended regulations to allow communities to ban cannabis production “unless it is grown in ways that preserve the productive capacity of agricultural land.”

Under the new rules, “cement-based, industrial-style, cannabis-production bunkers” can be blocked, but cannabis farming itself can not.

The Ministry of Agriculture says pot can still be legally grown if it’s in an open field or a structure with a soil base.

Structures that were already under construction before July 13 and existing licensed facilities are also grandfathered in.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson called the move a good first step, but said she still has questions.

“If they are going to be having fields of marijuana, I guess my question is how is that going to be held secure?” she said.

“The question of odour, it’s become really apparent particularly in Delta with the composting problem that is existing that Metro Vancouver cannot control odours, and this will be much the same I believe.”

Jackson said it’s also still unclear whether cannabis producers would be able to move into existing greenhouses.

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WATCH: Extended tour of Canada’s largest government-approved pot greenhouse

Click to play video: 'Extended tour of Canada’s largest government-approved pot greenhouse'
Extended tour of Canada’s largest government-approved pot greenhouse

But Cannabis Congress Association of Canada president Ian Dawkins said while the new rules were clearly well intended, they will have unintended consequences for smaller growers.

“If you give them the power to ban any kind of pouring of concrete, which is what these regulations do, you’re not only banning huge bunkers, you’re banning what we call the micro producers or micro processors,” he said.

READ MORE: Could a mega marijuana production facility revive a small Okanagan town?

Dawkins said that in order for a cannabis grower to sell product to anyone other than another processer, they have their own micro-processing licence, which requires what Health Canada calls “Good Production Practices.”

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Under the current Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, Good Production Practices cover quality assurance as well as sanitation requirements.

Dawkins said those requirements, along with Health Canada security requirements, usually mean pouring concrete.

WATCH: Aldergrove residents complain about huge pot farm

Click to play video: 'Aldergrove residents complain about huge pot farm'
Aldergrove residents complain about huge pot farm

“It really means if you’re a small producer looking to stand on your own two feet and sell your own product directly to market, like a microbrewery, you can’t look at these municipalities anymore.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s system of preserving farmland up for review

He added that on a practical level, growing marijuana on any scale with a purely dirt-floor facility is “pretty difficult.”

The province says the new regulations apply only to lands within the ALR, and that local governments and First Nations already have the power to regulate or prohibit cannabis production on other land types.

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Cannabis will become legal on October 17.

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