The City of Abbotsford moved last week to outlaw new cement-bottomed marijuana grow facilities while ignoring a plea to exempt small-scale “micro” growers from the new rules.
The new rules close a door that opened when the province declared earlier this year that growing marijuana on farmland would be permitted by default, even if it’s growing in a building.
While cities had retained the ability to consider applications to grow pot in the ALR on a case-by-case basis, the province’s surprise move gave automatic legal status to such operations – although municipalities retained the ability to outlaw cement-bottomed marijuana farm buildings.
To deal with the changes, the city passed a bylaw banning marijuana growing except where specifically permitted by the province. Those rules require marijuana to be grown in a field, in a building with a soil bottom, or in a legally built and unaltered greenhouse constructed before July 13, 2018.
Before council’s unanimous vote to move forward with the rules, representatives of a pair of companies had asked for exceptions.
Susan Chapelle, the director of government relations with Pasha Brands, urged council to relax rules for “micro growers” with buildings smaller than 1,000 square metres (10,763 square feet).
Her company says it works to assist existing small-scale growers get their pot into the legalized market.
“Abbotsford already has hundreds of cannabis cultivators operating within the local municipality and contributing to the local economy, including supplementing their farm income,” Chapelle told council.
Chapelle, along with the company’s lawyer, told council that allowing for small “micro-cultivation facilities” would help farmers, the city and the local economy.
“By not allowing existing producers an avenue or a route into the legal framework, Abbotsford will be perpetuating the current underground economy, which will incur higher municipal costs and lower revenues,” she said.
Council, though, declined to exempt small growers from the new rules, although Mayor Henry Braun said the issue would return to council after the city’s AgRefresh process concludes and with future decisions made by senior government regulators.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ali Ghahary urged the city to expand the number of properties grandfathered in under the old rules. Ghahary is involved in a company that had submitted a letter of intent to the city notifying it that an application was to be submitted to the federal government to grow medical marijuana on Abbotsford’s farmland.
The city had already grandfathered in nine properties that had begun the process to apply to construct a growing facility.
Ghahary said his company plans to conduct medical cannabis research and had begun the process of applying to set up a grow location in Abbotsford one year ago.
He said his company had submitted a letter of intent to the city about its Health Canada application. But Ghahary said that, when he expressed a desire to apply to the city itself a couple weeks ago, he learned of the new rules.
He said his application to Health Canada was tied to a specific Abbotsford property that can’t be changed.
“If we don’t move forward, all this time energy and money has gone away,” he said.
Council agreed to allow Ghahary’s group and six other companies that had submitted letters of intent to apply under the old rules. That will bring to 16 the number of properties where marijuana could potentially be grown under the old rules. However, the owners of those properties must still receive approval from city hall for their plans.