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Medical pot grower says politicians’ fears unfounded

Proponent of planned marijuana facility near Okanagan Falls says new federal regulations should address most concerns
Medical marijuana siting is still a contentious issue for local governments.

Debate rages over the siting of medical marijuana facilities, but one of the men behind a proposed operation near Okanagan Falls thinks local politicians’ concerns are misplaced.

The board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday passed a motion calling on the Agricultural Land Commission to reverse a ruling that makes production of medical marijuana an allowable farm use.

As it stands, the RDOS would be unable to block construction of a licensed facility within the Agricultural Land Reserve when new federal regulations take effect April 1. The motion received near-unanimous support as directors voiced concerns that centred on security and odours.

David Hutchinson, general manager of The Herbal Clone Bank, said he understands directors’ worries, but suggested the new rules address all those issues.

“They’ve got to represent their constituents and I absolutely agree with them and I think that’s appropriate, but they need to educate themselves and they need to educate their constituents that the regulations that are being put in place by Health Canada …  do exactly that,” said Hutchinson.

He’s partnering with a Penticton-based company on The Herbal Clone Bank, the main business of which would be production of marijuana plant clones it would then sell to licensed growers.

Hutchinson said the company is still awaiting approval from Health Canada and would operate principally from a 740-square metre greenhouse facility capable of producing 20,000 plants per week on a piece of land that’s in the ALR about five kilometres east of Okanagan Falls.

“Whether certain (directors) agree or not, this is a horticultural product,” he said. “It should be grown in the healthiest, cheapest environment possible.”

Among those who disagree is Tom Siddon, the director for Okanagan Falls-Kaleden.

“These are not farms; they’re industrial operations,” Siddon said.

“And in my case, Area D, I’d prefer to see them in the industrial park (rather) than bothering all of the other people in the neighbourhood who are growing real food and grapes.”

Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino called on senior governments to provide a response to concerns raised by local politicians.

“I want to make sure that the laws are strong enough that our citizens are protected, and I don’t see that they are,” she said.

Penticton city councillor Wes Hopkin voted in favour of the motion partly because he doesn’t think greenhouses full of marijuana support the intent of the ALR, but he cautioned colleagues against misjudging medical marijuana.

“We have to be very careful looking at this from sort of a Leave It to Beaver kind of moral lens … because it’s controversial in the same way that halfway houses for drug addicts going into neighbourhoods is controversial,” Hopkin said.

Going along with old grow-op stereotypes, he continued, could mean “we don’t support what is effectively an industry that provides a medical product to people who have diseases that require that as a treatment.”