Salmon Arm grapples with medical marijuana

Zoning: Council looks at where potential commercial grow operations should be located.

Marg Kentel

Marg Kentel

In the wake of new regulations introduced by Health Canada, Salmon Arm council must ponder where best to put medicinal marijuana grow operations.

Effective April 1, the new ‘Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations’ will consolidate existing grow operations in private residences into larger, secured facilities, with the stated intent of making them easier to regulate and monitor by federal agencies.

Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, explained to the city’s Monday meeting of its development and planning services committee that if a company has a proposal for a grow op, it will go to the municipal government to see if zoning bylaws are correct.

In Salmon Arm, he said, such a use seems to fit with allowed uses in industrial and agricultural zones, just as growing facilities for hot-house tomatoes would.  Alternatively, a new zone could be created.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Kevin Keane told council the biggest concern of police is safety, particularly of neighbouring residents.

“There’s a significant amount of marijuana grow ripoffs… the last one a couple of weeks ago. Someone came to rip off a legalized marijuana grow place, they got the wrong location and somebody got shot. Those are my concerns.”

Keane said he would favour the placement of medicinal marijuana grow ops in industrial areas over agricultural ones.

“My concern is, one farm house looks like another farm house… They can get the wrong driveway.”

Pearson reported that the city has already had an application.

In January, planning staff, fire department personnel and police “officially acknowledged an application being forwarded to Health Canada for a farm site in the Salmon River Valley,” states a planning staff report. “That proposal appeared to be small in scale involving no new buildings and seemed to meet the definition of agriculture and intensive agriculture permitted in the A-1 (agriculture) zone.”

Four hundred licences are expected to be issued in Canada, 100 of those in B.C. However, it’s not known how many are destined for the Shuswap.

“One of the challenges staff has noticed is the lack of any detail whatsoever with enquiries and proposals. To date, most enquiries have been very secretive in nature with no location, company profiles or operational details provided,” states a staff report. “Equally, Health Canada has not been proactive in advising the city which, if any, proposals are under their review within our municipality.”

Research of other communities showed that Kamloops, Kelowna and the Regional District of North Okanagan favour bylaws to allow production within industrial zones because of safety concerns. In contrast, Mission and Maple Ridge are promoting the use of Agricultural Land Reserve and rural lands for growing medicinal marijuana to preserve industrial land for more manufacturing-type use.

Coun. Denise Reimer asked how many grow ops police are now dealing with. Cpl. Luiz Sardinha said: “We have a list of targets, we go after the bigger ones. There are many we don’t know about. We go after major commercial grows, 1,000 to 10,000 plants.”

Added Keane: “We deal with the ones directly tied into organized crime.”

Coun. Ken Jamieson said he’d like to get input from the public, noting that he’s not leaning toward agricultural or industrial at this point.

“I see the liberalization of marijuana laws coming,” he said, noting that if the city considers the issue and gets bylaws in place, it will be better prepared for the future.

Coun. Marg Kentel predicted the public won’t be in favour of medicinal grow ops in agricultural or industrial areas.

“I know what we’re going to hear. Nobody’s going to want it. I guess that’s what we get paid the big dollars for.”