North Cowichan has referred a report from staff on where to permit Medical Marijuana Grow Operations (MMGOs) to its Agricultural Advisory Committee, which will likely meet in late March.
Staff had recommended MMGOs only be allowed in Industrial 1 and 2 zones because of the size of the facilities and security requirements that come with large scale production of marijuana.
But the AAC will be asked to consider a bylaw that allows commercial MMGOs in agricultural and industrial zones, with the proviso that there be a 92 metre setback of the facilities from adjacent properties on agricultural land.
Meetings with the RCMP were a factor in the staff recommendation. “The municipality covers a very large area and many agricultural properties are in remote locations, which are difficult to monitor from a public safety perspective, which therefore potentially increases the risk of illegal activity,” the staff report to council states.
“By permitting production facilities only within industrial zones there is a much higher level of natural surveillance as well as the ability to require a development permit for the construction of the facility.”
Mayta Ryn, president of the Nanaimo-Cedar Farmers’ Institute said MMGOs should be located in industrial zones, and that North Cowichan should look to the experiences of other municipal and regional governments in drafting its bylaw.
“Nanaimo (Regional District) has been through the ringer on this,” she said.
Although the province has defined it as an ‘agricultural product’ she said the facilities designed to produce medical marijuana are anything but agricultural in nature.
They can be from 25,000 to 35,000 square foot facilities, surrounded by 10 foot high, razor topped fences, employing upwards of 150 people. Because they consume so much power, would likely require upgrades to hydro services in agricultural areas.
If North Cowichan permits them on agricultural lands “They will be making a dramatic error, they will regret it,” she said.
There is no MMGO operating within North Cowichan’s boundaries at present. The closest facility, Tilray, is located in an industrial zone on Duke Point.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Levebure said the issue will likely be considered by council in April. He noted that the municipality would not be approving or licensing MMGOs; it’s role would be to ensure licenced facilities are located and built according to the zoning bylaws of North Cowichan.