Agriculture Minister Lana Popham speaks at Union of B.C. Municipalities forum, Sept. 28, 2017. (B.C. government)

‘Exploding’ marijuana industry threatens B.C. farmland

Lana Popham said legalization not foreseen when pot allowed on ALR

While legalization of marijuana has communities worried about under-age sales and impaired driving, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has also had an earful about the threat of food-producing land being converted to feed the recreational cannabis market.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson quizzed Popham on the subject at a natural resources forum at the Union of B.C. Municipalities this week

Jackson said she has fought as councillor and mayor for nearly 40 years to preserve Delta’s prime farmland. Delta has 8,500 ha of Fraser River delta land in cultivation, some of the most productive in a province where only five per cent of the total area is available for agriculture.

“I’m really worried that people are going to be gobbling up our best land for growing marijuana, and we really need all the land we have to grow vegetables and fruits,” Jackson said. “I really don’t want to have to depend on the United States for our food.”

Popham confirmed that several local officials also raised the issue in closed-door meetings, and that growing marijuana is a permitted use in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“I believe that when this was made an allowable use, we could not foresee what was about to happen as far as an industry exploding before our eyes,” Popham said.

She urged Jackson and other local government representatives to write formal letters to her ministry as B.C. negotiates terms of legalization with Ottawa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that recreational marijuana will be legal by July 1, 2018.

While marijuana for ingesting wasn’t contemplated by the province or the Agricultural Land Commission, there have been several experiments with growing industrial hemp for biofuel, oils and fibre.

In 2006, a 45-hectare hemp pilot project was approved for the 100 Mile House area by then-agriculture minister Pat Bell. The pilot was increased the following year, following efforts in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to grow hemp for biodiesel and industrial and textile fibre.

Smaller hemp plantings were done at Smithers, on Vancouver Island and at West Moberly near Fort St. John.