Since the federal cannabis law came into force last October 2018, the production of marijuana products for recreational use is legal in Canada.
The situation, however, is far from clear cut, said district staff in a report to Sooke council.
“By bringing forward this report, we’re looking to be proactive. Most communities that have been successful (in handling cannabis production requests) are the ones who have gotten ahead of the issue by formulating some policies and positions on the issue,” Corporate officer Carolyn Mushata said.
Previously, council adopted a bylaw that added “cannabis retail stores” as a defined and permitted use in two zones, but the report noted no Sooke bylaws address cannabis production.
That hasn’t stopped at least one entrepreneur from embarking on an enterprise in which he has created space for a series of small craft grower operations.
But that operation fell outside of the license class that required district approval, so the issue did not immediately concern council.
The report, however, points out that the time will come when the council will be faced with some hard decisions on cannabis production.
While cannabis production facilities are licensed and regulated by the federal government, local governments are not the approving authority for cannabis production facilities.
Municipalities do have the ability to influence where they are located by exercising their authority over land use . It is possible for a municipality to enact zoning regulations that would severely restrict, or even prevent, production facilities from establishing themselves in any community.
To provide some context to the issue, administrative staff presented council with information on what other municipalities have done and the results were less than instructive.
Of the 10 municipalities reviewed by staff, it seems some have added cannabis production as a permitted use in industrial zones, few have added it to their agricultural zones, and none of the municipalities examined have included cannabis production as a permitted use in commercial zones, although the report notes that such zoning would be possible.
The report adds one municipality (Regional District of Central Kootenay) has chosen to regulate the size of cannabis production facilities through gross floor area, while some others have implemented setbacks from property lines and minimum separation distances from sensitive land uses.
At present, Sooke’s official community plan does not address cannabis production directly although some policies encourage small scale farming opportunities and diverse uses of agricultural land.
These same sections, however, speak to food security issues which may exclude cannabis, although the report references land use for wine and other alcoholic beverages–a conundrum that highlighted the risk of a certain hypocrisy that will have to be considered when formulating bylaws.
In considering the report Mayor Maja Tait expressed concern that food production could be displaced by the more lucrative cannabis industry and touched on the issue of the smell produced by large scale cannabis producers.
Add to the mix the fact that the law does allow folks to grow as many as four plants per “dwelling house” for their personal use, and that there are eight different license classes under the Health Canada cannabis production licenses, and the issue is far from resolved.
Faced with more questions than answers, Sooke council passed a motion to accept the report as information and asked staff to start preparing some specific bylaws for consideration regarding the issue.