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Council will allow public to voice opinions before approving commercial medical pot facility in town
Members of Town of Osoyoos council are leaning heavily towards supporting allowing the commercial production of medical marijuana in this community, however, they want members of the public to have their say before any final decisions are made.
That’s why no final decision will be made on when and where to open a commercial production facility in the town until a rezoning application is approved.
All rezoning applications involve public hearings.
After lengthy discussion and a presentation by two members of a Vancouver-based pharmaceutical company that has formally applied to the town to operate a commercial medical marijuana facility, council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to direct staff to look at possible locations in the town’s industrial park.
As part of the motion, any application to operate a commercial medical marijuana facility would have to go through a formal rezoning process, meaning public hearings would be held to allow local residents to voice their opinions before any final decision is made.
In early November, council directed staff to prepare a report providing council with options on regulating or prohibiting commercial marijuana operations with a zoning amendment bylaw.
The federal government recently announced changes to the way Canadians will be able to access marijuana for medical purposes.
Specifically, the current Marijuana Medical Access Regulation introduced in 2002 will be replaced with the new Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, that will come into effect next April.
In essence, 45,000 personal licenses that allowed Canadians to grow their own medical pot and designated-person production licenses that designated someone to produce marijuana on behalf of an individual after receiving approval from medical professionals will be revoked and 170 large-scale commercial operators across the country will be licensed to produce and sell it.
Under these regulations, Health Canada is not required to notify local governments of issued licenses within municipal boundaries, which meant local government had no knowledge of an operation and was unable to inspect the operation to ensure it was in compliance with building, fire and electrical safety regulations or to confirm whether or not the operation was a permitted use in zoning regulations.
A review of the current system started in 2011 because of concerns over risk and abuse by criminal elements, the complexity and length of the application process, the need for more current medical information for physicians pertaining to the risks and benefits with the use of medical marijuana and public health and safety risks associated with the cultivation of marijuana plants in homes, said a staff report.
Health Canada has decided to phase out the production of medical marijuana by individuals within residential dwellings and replace it with a new supply and distribution system that will rely on licensed commercial producers.
Personal production of medical pot by individuals in their homes will no longer be permitted effective April 1, 2014 and applications for personal use and designated person production licenses are no longer being issued by Health Canada.
Under the new regulations, a licensed producer of medical marijuana has to comply with the municipality’s zoning regulations and the federal government has indicated it will respect local government zoning bylaws when determining whether or not to issue production licenses.
Motions to allow a medical marijuana grow operation (MMGO) in an agricultural zone in town boundaries was rejected by council on Monday.
Coun. C. J. Rhodes said the obvious site for an MMGO, if approved following a rezoning application and public hearings, would be in the town’s industrial park.
“I’m very much against using agricultural land,” he said.
Allowing commercial medical marijuana grow operations within town boundaries is sure to upset some people and will remain a contentious issue, but the reality is hundreds of thousands of Canadians benefit from using the product and this industry is here to stay, said Rhodes.
“If you support it, the perception is you smoke it, which in my case, is not true,” said Rhodes. “There is proven scientific need for people who require it and benefit from it.
“I think it would be an excellent economic driver for this community … and we’re not going to suddenly be the commercial medical marijuana capital of North America. That’s not going to happen.”
Coun. Sue McKortoff said the fact commercial producers would have to notify police, fire departments and town councils about their operations and comply with all zoning bylaws makes the new system much safer than the current one.
While members of council are paid to make decisions, this issue is too controversial and important to not allow members of the public to voice their say and that’s why he favours any application going through a rezoning process, said Mayor Stu Wells.
Coun. Michael Ryan agreed.
“I do like the idea of information sessions on this … and I would like an assessment of potential locations in our industrial park. We do have people who are living near our industrial park,” he said.
Coun. Mike Plante said commercial medical marijuana operations are going to be built across this country and he would be in favour of one opening in Osoyoos if done right.
“This is going to happen and we’re seeing this change,” he said. “We have to take a look at this, but let’s look at how we can control this and benefit.”