Prospective medical marijuana producers are concerned a proposed prohibition on legal grow-ops in Abbotsford will halt their plans to run legitimate businesses.
By April 2014, new regulations from Health Canada will end private home grow-ops for medical marijuana and allow for larger-scale commercial operations that will distribute the product by mail. The city remains concerned about the potential impact of the new regulations and is seeking to keep grow-ops out of Abbotsford through zoning bylaws.
Abbotsford is proposing to prohibit commercial grow-ops in all non-farmland city zones, and on farmland, which will require approval from the province.
The bylaws went to public hearing on Monday, and while concerns about grow-ops in the city were raised by some residents, prospective producers say the city's plan will impede business in what will be a highly regulated industry.
Sam Mellace, a licensed marijuana grower, said he and his business partner spent millions of dollars revamping a chicken barn in Bradner into a legal area to grow marijuana. They produce marijuana products by extracting the active ingredient in order to create creams and other products that provide medical benefits without inducing a high.
Mellace said the new commercial producers take the business and health benefits of medical marijuana seriously and go through a strict procedure to be licensed, and council's decision could put them out of business.
"We have spent a lot of money up until now, and then get stonewalled by the council."
But Aird Flavelle, who ran in the last provincial election as the Green Party candidate for Abbotsford-Mission, encouraged council to "stick to their guns" and prohibit grow-ops, citing the high costs to taxpayers due to the law enforcement and utilities that grow-ops require.
"Let our federal government have their new rules. Let's revisit it in five years and see how they work. In the meantime… let's stay away from it."
Jim Fitzpatrick has applied for a license to grow marijuana in Abbotsford. He said that credible marijuana production will assist Abbotsford's efforts to be a safe community by keeping marijuana out of the illegal drug trade, while the grow-op would bring credible employment to the city.
Mayor Bruce Banman said there were compelling arguments from both sides and council deferred their decision to a later meeting.
But Banman has been critical of Health Canada's failure to ensure that they will assist municipalities with the negative effects of the former legal grow-op system. He said he has "broken faith" in Health Canada and remains skeptical of new plans. He added that while a prohibition on grow-ops could always be revisited in the future, for now, caution may be the best approach.
"I think that what you're seeing around the council table is a hesitancy... to just jump in with both feet and trust Health Canada to get this next phase.. right."