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How will Vernon handle permitting for new medicinal marijuana grow-ops?

Local government is a bit hazy on how things are going to work once new medicinal marijuana regulations light up next year.
Image Credit: SOURCE/Rodehi
July 12, 2013 - 4:40 PM

VERNON - Local government is a bit hazy on how things are going to work once new medicinal marijuana regulations light up next year.

The federal government is shifting the production of medical marijuana from small scale residential grow-ops to industrial, factory style settings, with the changes taking effect April 1, 2014. Health Canada says the system is currently prone to abuse, with many licensed producers over-growing and diverting pot to the black market. They say the new system will keep the public safer while still providing reasonable access to patients.

While Health Canada will be awarding licenses for these commercial style grows, it will be up to municipal governments to approve land-use permits. Kim Flick, City of Vernon planning and building services director, says this means updating zoning bylaws.

An administration update being brought to council Monday, July 15, says staff will be bringing a report forward in the fall, proposing licensed grow-ops be included in certain industrial and agricultural districts.

Flick says municipalities across the country are in the process of figuring out their role under the new system.

"Some municipalities aren't touching their zoning bylaws and others are taking steps to put prohibitions in place," Flick says, adding she expects legal challenges to pop up. "We're suggesting including it in our bylaw so we can regulate it... It gives us more control."

In an information bulletin, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) states the production of marijuana fits under the criteria of an appropriate land use in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). But growing is very different from some of the other activities involved in the new medical marijuana industry, like lab research and the processing of the plant. It might not be allowed to all happen under the same roof, according to the ALC.

That's why the City of Vernon is looking at industrial zoning, which can accommodate different kinds of facilities as well.

Under current regulations, the city isn't privy to the whereabouts of licensed grow-ops, so knowing where they are and learning to cooperate with them will be a big change.

"We have a number of concerns. It's obviously a very significant change in medical marijuana," Flick says.

Even though the city has no authority over legal grows at the moment, they're already receiving calls from angry neighbours complaining about odour and safety. What will things be like when they become the ones approving the land use?

"A lot of people (near the grow-ops) will object to it, period, on moral grounds," Flick says. "But the only thing we can deny (permitting requests) on is land use."

One business contacted by InfoTel News confirmed they had relocated when a licensed grow-op set up near them, but declined an interview.

"We all know the reputation of grow-ops, it will be no surprise that some people won't like it. Hopefully under the new regulations impacts on the public will be reduced by the large-scale approach," Flick says, noting common nuisances like the smell will be better contained.

Planning and building manager for the Regional District of North Okanagan Rob Smailes says they often get complaints about grows, but right now, there's no way for them to know if they're licensed or illegal. He thinks the new notification requirement is a good one, and believes permitting is a step in the right direction. Giving out permits for grow-ops may be a first, but Smailes says the principles are the same as with other structures.

"It's not much different from something like a manufacturing facility," Smailes says.

 The district has some work to do figuring out guidelines for the new land-use, such as how far away they'll have to be from property lines and residential areas, Smailes says.

"It's a land-use issue, and that's how we're treating it," Smailes says. "We're just trying to get an understanding of how it's all going to fit."

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston


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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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