RDOS seeking ways to nudge medical marijuana producers

Local government can't block operations from setting up shop here, but it wants a say in where they go

RDOS Director Wes Hopkin

RDOS Director Wes Hopkin

After the B.C. government warned local governments not to use legislation to ward off medical marijuana operations, one group will instead explore ways to encourage producers to locate where they’ll generate the least conflict.

Such encouragement could come in the form of reduced fees or other as-yet unknown incentives, which the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday asked its staff to investigate.

As of June, the RDOS had been notified of three applications to Health Canada by growers seeking licences to operate in the region; none of the applications has been approved yet.

Nonetheless, Wes Hopkin, a Penticton city councillor and RDOS director, said it’s time to start drawing up rules to help alleviate community concerns around matters such as odour control and siting of such facilities so they’re not near schools.

“We have had applications and people have come in sort of kicking the tires, at least, so I think it is prudent that we try to deal with this now, provide some direction,” said Hopkin.

He noted that when the province announced June 24 that marijuana grow sites located on agricultural land will not be taxed at a lower farm rate, it also reminded local governments not to roll up their welcome mats.

“Local governments looking to propose a bylaw prohibiting medical marijuana may wish to seek legal counsel as enacting such a bylaw may give rise to a constitutional challenge as frustrating a lawful initiative of the federal government,” stated a backgrounder that accompanied the press release.

Hopkin is confident there remains leeway to help guide the siting and characteristics  of such facilities, perhaps through a bylaw that only allows the operations within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“We don’t have to give (producers) carte blanche,” he said.

“We can say, ‘Look, you’ve got to build it in such a way that fits with the neighbourhood or looks a certain way’… It’s an obligation on us and a responsibility to ensure we do exercise some discretion.”

Allan Patton, the director for rural Oliver, was the lone vote in opposition to having staff explore the options.

He suggested the RDOS leave it up to Health Canada and the Agricultural Land Commission to implement their new policies.

“They’re the ones that are deciding to do it. It’s all their deal. They’ve made the decisions, let them deal with the enforcement and regulations,” Patton said.

“We should stay as far away from this mess as possible, and anytime we get a complaint, we forward it on to Health Canada and to the ALC and let them deal with it and we tell our constituents we don’t want anything to do with this garbage.”