Plans for the first cannabis cultivation facility in North Saanich are closer to reality, but also drew criticism from a long-standing critic of marijuana.
Councillors, meeting as a committee of the whole, forwarded plans to convert an abandoned poultry farm on John Road in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to two committees for additional review with a report likely due in February, 2020. North Saanich initially opposed recreational marijuana production on land within the ALR. The province subsequently allowed it but only under certain conditions, including on concrete floors.
Councillors also asked staff to survey odour, noise and light issues around comparable facilities around Greater Vancouver and ask the applicant to see if they might be willing to make a financial contributions to agencies that deal with drug addiction. Finally, councillors asked the applicants to prepare a stormwater management plan and an agricultural liquid waste management plan for the facility.
Rushco Properties, a group of local entrepreneurs, does not plan to grow cannabis in the facility itself, the public heard. It instead plans to lease the facility to commercial cannabis growers. The facility would not include a retail section. It stopped operating as a poultry farm in 1997 before Rushco Properties purchased it in 2018.
Mayor Geoff Orr said it is far too early to tell when cultivation would begin as several hurdles remain. They include feedback from the two commissions, public input, as well as approval from Health Canada. “But what we are doing, is that we are signalling that we are putting the steps in place to move forward,” he said.
If approved, North Saanich would join a small but growing number of communities with cultivation facilities. Orr admitted that some parts of the community are still wary about what this might mean.
“Personally, it is now a legalized product that is recognized by the [Agricultural Land Commission], ” he said. “So we have certain obligations to follow through. In that regard, I am personally okay with advancing [it].” This said, the community has expressed issues around odour and other issues, he said.
The public heard Monday from Rawleigh Rushfeldt, a spokesperson for the company, that odour, noise and light pollution wouldn’t be an issue.
While the majority of councillors generally signalled support for the project, Coun. Jack McClintock voiced the biggest concerns in questioning whether the proposal is consistent with North Saanich’s strategic plan calling for a “safe and healthy community.”
The harmful effects of marijuana are well-known, he said, citing his experience of more than three decades in policing.
“I have seen the lost souls through addiction and drug dependency,” he said in questioning the motives of the cannabis industry. He said it appears to be an industry that only cares for projects, while dismissing the effects of its products. “I will not support any application whose sole purpose is for profit and cause possible harm to residents,” he said during debate.
Speaking with the Peninsula News Review later, McClintock said he would continue to lobby municipal governments, as well as the provincial government for ways to hold the cannabis industry responsible. Governments cannot afford to make the same mistake they made decades ago with tobacco, he said.
The question of whether the cannabis industry bears any responsibility for the health effects of cannabis loomed in the background as councillors debated a motion asking staff to ask the applicant if they might be prepared to make contributions towards agencies that help individuals deal addictions.
Coun. Murray Weisenberger disagreed. “This makes absolutely no sense for me,” he said. He questioned why North Saanich would single out one industry when other industries also contribute to various harms. He also pointed out later that marijuana is less addictive that smoking and alcohol. Coun. Celia Stock agreed in arguing that it would set a precedent for other industries such as the wine industry and Coun. Brett Smyth said North Saanich is being too prescriptive.
In the end, Orr joined McClintock, Couns. Patricia Pearson and Couns. Heather Gartshore in favour of the measure, which he called “innovative” and forward-thinking in absence of the industry’s unwillingness to do anything about effects.
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