District changes mind on pot – again

Proposed McTavish Road medical marijuana project squeaks in

North Saanich will prohibit the production of medical marijuana for at least six months.

Councillors, in a 5-2 vote Monday night, reinstated the ban they had initially agreed to late last year, but had overturned in December to consider the issue further and get feedback from various local citizen commissions. Since then, residents have spoken loud and clear that they are not supportive of such production facilities in North Saanich and made that voice clear on Monday night. Of the 19 speakers during council’s public participation period, a majority called for the ban, citing potential for crime, odour and pollution. Bob Williamson told council it wasn’t a matter of marijuana’s medical benefits, but one of industrial production on agricultural land. Other speakers said much the same thing.

The proponent of a medical marijuana production facility proposed for McTavish Road, Roberto Brescaiani, also addressed council. He said while some of the people’s concerns are valid, he urged the community to learn more about their proposal, its technology and potential for local employment.

Brescaiani’s application, under the company name Cannan Growers Inc. came in to the District prior to council’s vote, says Mayor Alice Finall. That means the municipality will have to allow the application process to proceed and in all likelihood, permit a production facility.

“It’s disappointing,” Finall said. “Staff made every effort to get information to council (last year).”

She said while the vote and prohibition bylaws will come too late for the Cannan proposal, North Saanich will have six months to see how it develops and gain insight from operations in other municipalities. Finall has been opposed to medical marijuana production facilities in North Saanich from the start and said she found all the mind-changing on the issue troubling.

Councillor Ted Daly had led the vote to overturn the initial prohibition back in December. On Monday, he maintained that position.

“I’m not saying I support licenced medical marijuana,” he said, adding he wanted to dismiss the typical North Saanich response to such things, which he said is “come in. No! What was the question?”

Daly has said he didn’t want to reject outright what the federal government has deemed a legal agricultural activity.

Coun. Conny McBride added she doesn’t see the difference between the production of carrots, corn and lettuce — all of which is grown, processed and packaged — and the agricultural component of marijuana.

Coun. Elsie McMurphy noted people’s strong reaction to medical marijuana production, saying the six-month prohibition will allow for caution.

Council as a whole stated the issue for them was not one of the validity of medical marijuana, but of how and where it’s produced. Finall said she doesn’t think this was a ‘not in my backyard’ stance, but an issue over agricultural land use and something that’s more appropriately an industrial operation.

North Saanich staff will now draw up bylaws on the proposed prohibition, meaning there could be additional public debate on the issue in the community.

Finall added council will, in all likelihood, hear more from the proponent of the medical marijuana production facility on McTavish Road in the future.

The property, she said, was once a greenhouse for mushroom growers. It’s surrounded by a metal fence, has an enclosed building and ditching around the site. Already, Finall said, it seems set up for the security requirements of a medical marijuana facility.