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North Cowichan allows medical pot on agricultural lands

New bylaw follows provincial directive

Medical marijuana growing facilities will be allowed on North Cowichan’s agricultural land reserve properties for the first time.

The municipality’s council voted for the zoning change at Wednesday’s regular meeting, although with reservations.

Chris Hutton, a development planner in the municipality, told council that the Ministry of Agriculture has produced a set of guidelines for local governments to follow in adopting bylaws for marijuana growing facilities.

He said that the guidelines are not binding on North Cowichan, but as a provincial information bulletin released in 2015 states “the B.C. government expects that all local government bylaws will be consistent” with the recommended bylaw standards.

“The province has indicated that failing to conform to the recommended bylaw standards may leave local governments vulnerable to a constitutional challenge for frustrating a lawful initiative of the federal government,” Hutton said.

“Such a challenge could render non-conforming provisions of local government bylaws void and of no force and effect.”

Coun. Al Siebring said he’s concerned that council must allow facilities that grow medicinal pot in its ALR, no matter its position on the issue, or face possible legal challenges.

“I’ve been told that we are one of the last municipalities in the province to adopt this bylaw,” he said.

“But I have big concerns. We’re talking about an industrial use that should be on our industrial lands. If there continues to be pushback from some other municipalities and if I got the sense that maybe we could change the ministry’s mind, I’d vote against it.”

Coun. Tom Walker said he’s more concerned about the ongoing illegal sales of marijuana in dispensaries in North Cowichan than the legal growing of pot in facilities on the ALR.

“I have no problem supporting the legal side of this issue.”

Coun. Rob Douglas said he doesn’t agree with a bylaw that would allow “large concrete bunkers” to be placed in the ALR.

“But I feel that we don’t have a choice,” he said.

Mayor Jon Lefebure said he supports a bylaw that conforms to the province’s expectations.

“To deliberately look for ways to confound efforts of the province is questionable as an approach,” he said.

“I’d recommend a bylaw with severe restrictions.”

Marijuana production facilities will be allowed in the ALR, but a number of minimum setbacks will be required.

They include that such facilities be set up no less than 15 metres from property lines, 30 metres from any watercourse, and 150 metres from any neighbouring school or park.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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