Saanich has specified the conditions for local farmers who want to grow marijuana on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Bylaw changes awaiting ratification stipulate federally-licensed pot farming in the ALR qualifies as farm use if it happens in an open field; in structures, whose respective bases consist completely of soil; in pre-existing structures (such as greenhouses with concrete pads) constructed for the purpose of growing crops; or structures for the purpose of growing crops under construction prior to July 13 — the deadline identified in a Aug. 15 bulletin from the Agricultural Land Commission concerning the cultivation of marijuana in the ALR.
Cannabis growing operations that do not meet those conditions represent non-farm uses that require approval from the Agricultural Land Commission under provincial regulations that allow municipal governments to control but not restrict the conditions of cannabis production.
Saanich council asked staff earlier this year to develop measures that would limit construction of the bunker-style pot-growing facilities in the ALR.
“The fear is we’ll see a proliferation of concrete-style bunkers on farmland which will render the fields otherwise useless,” said then-councillor Dean Murdock. “We’re more concerned with activities as part of the production that is detrimental to farmland.”
Proposed changes to Saanich’s bylaws will go before council on Monday. If approved, they will give the marijuana industry additional guidance when it comes to cannabis production on ALR land in Saanich.
A Saanich councillor has already voiced opposition to most of the pending bylaw changes.
Coun. Nathalie Chambers said she “adamantly” opposes cannabis production on land in the ALR or land zoned agriculture outside the ALR with the proviso that she is open to open field growing.
“It [cannabis production] is an industrial use,” she said. “It deserves to pay industrial tax [instead of farm tax]. It is not organic.”
Chambers said she would like to consult with the public about the various aspects of producing recreational cannabis. “This is going to be a huge business on Vancouver Island,” she said, adding that the production of cannabis represents a “climate change favourable business.” While it will require regulation and education to ensure community safety, it could boost Saanich’s business and industrial sector, said Chambers.
“I envision a funky light industrial area with local businesses and crafters [among others], potentially with mixed housing,” she said.