A Saanich councillor fears cannabis could crowd out food production, but the head of the provincial association representing greenhouse vegetable farmers said she is not worried about the issue.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau raised the issue earlier this month when council started to align the relevant municipal bylaw with provincial regulations concerning the growth of cannabis in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Mersereau said she is “very concerned” about the conversion of greenhouses away from production and towards cannabis, citing data from Delta’s chief police constable Neil Dubord, who spoke at the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference and trade show about the issue.
“He commented that in the first six months of cannabis regulation, 26 per cent of their greenhouses had been converted from food growing crops to cannabis,” she said earlier this month. “So at a provincial level, I’m very concerned about that trend, and I do hope our provincial government is alive to that issue, and perhaps council, that is an area for discussion down the road for possible [Union of British Columbia Municipalities] resolutions,” she said.
But Linda Delli Santi, president of the BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association, is not concerned.
“I’m really not worried at all,” she said. “There is space in the market for both [food growers and cannabis growers].”
She also questioned the numbers that Mersereau cited, noting that her association (which represents 96 per cent of all provincial greenhouse vegetable production) has not recorded such losses.
Delli Santi said 835 square acres of greenhouse space were growing food when the federal government legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018. While a total of 95 acres have converted towards cannabis, the addition of new greenhouses growing food has left the industry “pretty much even” from where it started, she said.
While growers can always convert towards cannabis, the real impact of legalization has been on the availability of skilled tradespeople, she said.
Saanich residents, meanwhile, will have a chance to comment on the proposed bylaw changes which staff describe as a “housekeeping” change.
The revised wording confirms cannabis production on lands within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), but only if the cannabis is produced outdoors in a field; inside a structure with a base consisting entirely of soil; or inside structures approved by the provincial government.
Staff also said the changes would ensure the on-going prohibition of production forms not specifically protected by ALR regulations.
“This would include cannabis grown in concrete-style bunkers and any activities related to that growing (such as the construction, maintenance or operation of a building or structure, or processing of the cannabis),” said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning.
Coun. Zac de Vries said Saanich — contrary to other municipalities — is trying to be as strict as possible.
“The province is alive to the issue of conversion, and working on options around that,” he said.
Mayor Fred Haynes appeared open to Mersereau’s appeal for more action by way of a UBCM resolution, while noting that the conversion issue is complex.
“Certainly, food is a priority for us in Saanich, and let us see where it lands,” he said.