RDOS takes hands-off approach to regulating medical marijuana growers

Board votes to leave existing bylaws in place after three applications from growers help prompt wider debate about new crop

Except for the two men whose areas may be first affected, the region’s local politicians have opted to take a hands-off approach to regulation of medical marijuana production in rural parts.

A committee of the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday voted 14-2  to go forward with the rules already in place to govern the use of agricultural land.

The debate was prompted in part by notifications the RDOS has received regarding three applications to Health Canada from groups wishing to grow medical pot within its jurisdiction: two near Okanagan Falls and one on the West Bench.

Tom Siddon, who represents Okanagan Falls-Kaleden, said he has “serious reservations” about the permit approval process and how grow-ops will be monitored for compliance with new rules that took effect April 1 and are intended to more tightly control production of medical marijuana.

“The government has not given us assurance that they will provide the tools to adequately enforce, in particular, potential environmental and neighbourhood interference,” said Siddon.

West Bench Director Michael Brydon urged the board to investigate new regulations to deal with “externalities” created by greenhouses containing large grow-ops, like their appearance on the landscape.

He likened medical marijuana production facilities to breweries.

“We might disagree with breweries, but guess what? That argument is over,” Brydon said.

“So we have to put any moral judgments aside and say, ‘This is a large, stinky, economies-of-scale business. Where now do we want this to grow?’ Literally.”

RDOS planner Chris Garrish pointed out, however, that greenhouses and medical marijuana production have been classified as appropriate uses of farmland by the Agricultural Land Commission, so there’s little that local governments can do to stop them.

David Hutchinson, who has applied to Health Canada to grow marijuana seedlings, appeared before the committee and argued that agricultural areas are the best places for the operations to avoid problems with neighbours.

“It’s a crop (best) grown outside cities, away from other issues,” he said.

Hutchinson’s company,  The Herbal Clone Bank, has proposed a 740-square-metre greenhouse facility capable of producing 20,000 plants per week east of Okanagan Falls.

His firm applied in November for a production licence from Health Canada, but has not yet heard back.

The federal agency has been swamped with nearly 1,000 applications, according to recent media reports, but so far approved just 13.