Several would-be marijuana growers are eyeing Abbotsford’s farmland.
Since mid-February, the city has fielded three separate applications to grow cannabis on agriculture land.
Little is publicly available on the applications, but, to proceed, all must first go to the city, then to the agricultural land commission to be approved as a “non-farm use.” Since soil-based pot plantations are already permitted, the applications suggest all three would involve plants being grown in buildings. Last year, the province brought in legislation that gave cities the ability to ban cement-floored marijuana operations on farmland, but Abbotsford has not yet enacted such a bylaw.
The properties in question are spread around Abbotsford.
One is proposed for a seven-hectare lot on McCallum Road, near the U.S. border. The property already includes several outbuildings, and recent satellite photographs show a large amount of vehicles and other debris around the buildings.
Another proposal has been made for nine-hectare plot on North Parallel Road, just north of the No. 3 road exit. That land currently has no buildings on it and is being used to grow trees. That proposal was made by Ravenquest Cannabis BioMed, a publicly traded medical marijuana company.
A third application was made for a Myrtle Avenue hobby farm. That proponents wants to grow cannabis in an existing 800-square-metre building. The application was submitted by Jaclynn Pehota, who runs a consultancy company helping people navigate the ever-evolving tangle of of laws and regulations cannabis.
Pehota told The News that, by growing marijuana in an existing building, the proposal would support agriculture – a requirement that any successful non-farm use application must fulfill. Pehota said there is little reason to prohibit marijuana from being grown in greenhouses and buildings on farmland. While marijuana may not be food, she noted that farmers are allowed to grow flowers in hothouses.
“Fundamentally cannabis is agriculture,” she said. “Cannabis is growing things and there is no proviso if you want to grow ginseng or hothouse flowers. You can pour concrete all over hell and gone if you want to do that.
“My attitude is: ‘This is an agricultural endeavour. I think we should encourage people who want to grow in greenhouses and in native soil to do so in the ALR.”
Pehota says cannabis production shouldn’t be pushed onto industrial land. That space is already in high demand, she noted, and cannabis businesses don’t employ as many people, per unit of land used, as most industrial enterprises.
“You want that job density in your industrial areas,” she said.
Pehota said she has submitted around a dozen applications to the ALC, but that none have yet been completed. She said such applications, once they make their way from municipalities, are being handled by the ALC’s executive committee, rather than the panels in place for each region. She isn’t aware of any similar applications that have been ruled upon.
But she said it seems likely staff at the ALC are facing a large pile of paperwork as more and more applications are submitted.
“I suspect they were inundated because I submitted 12 of them myself.”
The News requested comment from the other applicants and the ALC, but did not hear back. The city said applications will proceed as with any other development proposal for agricultural land. The proposals will first go to the city’s agriculture committee, then to council, with staff preparing a report on each application.