Haze starting to clear on pot production facility regulations

No concrete floor? No problem, says one company proposing to build a large-scale medical cannabis facility on Highway 3A near Kaleden.

On Thursday, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors told staff to prepare a zoning bylaw amendment to prohibit the non-farm use of cannabis production within all zones where agriculture is listed.

The decision comes after the Agriculture Land Commission switched gears on its position of cannabis production facilities on ALR lands stating they are considered a farm use if produced outdoors in a field and inside a building a soil-based floor but not in a building with a concrete floor. Those proposing cannabis facilities with concrete floors would need a zone change from the RDOS and additional approvals from the ALC.

Representatives of Green Mountain Health Alliance Ltd. heldo a photo-op ground breaking at the property on Highway 3A. The company has an application in to become a licensed medical marijuana production facility. (Submitted)

Dominic Unsworth, head facilities designer for Green Mountain Health Alliance, recently spoke with the Western News and stated the Highway 3A facility would use technology that ensured the flooring of their proposed 150,000 square-foot facility on Highway 3A will be soil-based.

“The regs (from the ALR) gave us easy parameters to work within,” Unsworth said. “We have a product now that is completely conforming to farm use and we’re rolling along on site and expecting to be finalizing our licence with Health Canada.”

Work is underway at the Highway 3A facility with heavy equipment on site and soil being moved to make way for the building.

Related: Highway 3A pot plant pulls soil application

The other large-scale cannabis production facility proposed to be built on ALR land near Oliver will need to make revisions to previous plans.

The original plan was to build the Sarus Cannabis facility in three-phases using new vertical indoor growing technology on a property on Secrest Hill Road in rural Oliver. Earlier this summer, the RDOS provided an amendment to allow the footprint of the building to be larger than allowable to accommodate growing rooms opposed to greenhouses.

“I feel disappointed by this ruling and if we are unable to use concrete floors, we will have to adjust our design. The current design utilizes state-of-the art equipment that will reduce water consumption by 90 per cent, reduce growing times by up to 20 per cent and will create 75 full-time jobs (rather than the typical seasonal agriculture jobs),” Dean Casorso of Sarus Cannabis said in an email.

Related: Rural Oliver cannabis production facility gets go ahead

Brad Dollevoet, manager of development services, said neither proponent had yet completed building permit applications with the RDOS.

RDOS directors have previously stated their desire to keep cannabis facilities off agriculture land preferring developers build on industrial land.

Related: Large scale marijuana facilities in industrial zones get green light

Dollevoet said after the meeting that once the bylaw amendment receives initial approval from the board, public consultation would be held. Third reading most likely would not be completed until the New Year when the new board was in place.

Tom Siddon, director for Area D (Kaleden/Okanagan Falls) questioned if the directors’ decision to prohibit the building of cannabis facilities with concrete floors on ALR land would mean definitively only those considered farm use, with soil-based floors, could be built.

“If the zoning says it would be not permitted, but if someone came and made an exceptional case and particular location far away from built up neighbourhoods or what have you, we could make an exception. We’re not saying never means never. There’s still an opportunity there,” Siddon said.

Dollevoet clarified for directors that a cannabis production facility could be built with a concrete floor if the proponent submitted a zoning application to the RDOS, followed up by a non-farm use application to the Agriculture Land Commission.

Prior to the directors’ vote, Michael Brydon director for Area F, (Okanagan Lake West/West Bench), noted the biggest issue appeared to be concrete floors on greenhouses not just cannabis facilities.

“It is kind of odd that the ALC has ruled against concrete floors in the context of cannabis, but not ornamental flowers, ginseng or basil or whatever. You know, personally, I would like to see us get all concrete floors, cannabis or not, off productive agriculture land, but I guess that is not in the mix because the ALC is only focussed on cannabis in this case,” Brydon said.

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