Residents and RDN continue fight against medical marijuana production facility near Parksville

The proposed facility, technically in Nanoose Bay, is opposed by River's Edge residents

Growing medical pot should be deemed an industrial activity — not an agricultural one.

That’s the message regional district directors are sending to the Ministry of Agriculture, after a special electoral area planning committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The board, not including City of Nanaimo directors, came together yesterday to respond to the ministry’s draft criteria for developing local government bylaws regarding medical marijuana production in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

“It (marijuana) is not a normal agricultural product,” said chair Joe Stanhope, who has supported River’s Edge residents in their fight against a medical marijuana facility setting up shop in a Nanoose Bay suburb south of Parksville. “It doesn’t belong in some of our pristine agricultural land.” Stanhope said the ministry is “ignoring completely the social, safety and security problems we could have if these things (medical marijuana facilities) are established in rural areas … we’re a long way from the police department and fire department and security would be a never-ending problem.”

Director Julian Fell said medical marijuana facilities have a “decidedly non-farm character.” Fell, who represents Coombs/Errington, said the Ministry’s report was insufficient and lacked some of the major concerns brought forward by residents. “We need the ability to address siting issues of the visual and social nature such as site buffers, shielding, proximity to schools, fire and police, exits and road use, impacts on infrastructure,” he said.

“These aren’t being addressed in what the province is offering us for comment.”

Director Bill Veenhof, who represents Deep Bay/Bowser, echoed Fell’s comments.

Veenhof said the province’s report essentially tells local government “don’t colour outside the lines.”

RDN staff suggested directors send a letter to Health Canada detailing their concerns.

Veenhof said he was against this because “Health Canada isn’t going to respond … you could imagine Health Canada having to respond to each local government in this great nation of ours — it’s not going to happen.”

He said “my philosophical problem with sending a letter to Health Canada is that it really sends a false hope when there isn’t really any hope.”

The provincial government recently determined medical marijuana facilities are an allowable “farm use” on ALR land. As such, local governments have limited authority over the matter — they may regulate but not prohibit medical cannabis production on ALR land.

This has created unique challenges for local governments responding to concerned residents. Many of the concerns include commercial access points and traffic, potential crime/security impacts, ground and surface water contamination, wastewater discharge and aquifer impacts.

A majority of directors at the special committee meeting voted to send a letter to Health Canada requesting its thorough evaluation of the aforementioned issues. They also voted to make it clear to the Ministry that medical marijuana facilities reflected many industrial characteristics.