SECHELT, B.C. - A community along British Columbia's Sunshine Coast is considering whether to implement special zoning for medical marijuana, allowing large-scale commercial operations in industrial and agricultural areas.
Councillors in the District of Sechelt have agreed to consider a draft bylaw that would allow commercial marijuana farms on some industrial or agricultural lands in the community, located a short ferry ride north of Vancouver.
The district will hold public hearings on the proposal, which have the support of the local RCMP and fire department.
The proposed bylaw would allow Health Canada-licensed growers that are producing marijuana for multiple users to set up shop in industrial zones. Licensed users who grow medical marijuana in their homes for their own personal use would not be affected.
"The zoning didn't provide for that kind of business to be operated on industrial property, so this is simply addressing that," Sechelt Mayor John Henderson said in an interview.
"The bylaws never contemplated marijuana being legal. In this case, licensed producers already exist. This is just us saying if a licensed producer wants to create a business in an industrially zoned area, they'll be allowed to."
District staff drafted the proposed bylaw after they received an application to renovate an industrial building in Sechelt to grow medical marijuana.
Currently, none of the district's zoning rules allow for commercial marijuana operations, said Henderson.
The proposal would allow commercial medical marijuana producers to operate in certain industrial zones. A public hearing on it was held in January.
Licensed users who attended the hearing raised concerns that onerous zoning requirements would make it more difficult for them to grow their own marijuana.
But at the same time, the district heard concerns that allowing commercial marijuana operations in residential areas would increase fire and safety risks, while creating nuisances such as the smell of the plants.
A report presented to council earlier this week says the bylaw's focus on commercial operations should alleviate those concerns, keeping large operations out of residential areas but leaving alone licensed users who grow their own.
RCMP Sgt. Mike McCarthy said the force supports the bylaw.
"It's an initiative that is all about public safety and we're obviously supportive of that," said McCarthy.
"It's the District of Sechelt that initiated this, but from a policing perspective, when a medical marijuana growing operation is in an industrial area, there are fewer risks in terms of illegal entry and such."
Marijuana grow operations that are subject to the zoning bylaw will be required to control the smell of the plants to ensure it doesn't become a nuisance.
The city report notes the nearby Sunshine Coast Regional District is currently looking into zoning issues associated with commercial medical marijuana operations, but is not expected to bring forward similar zoning changes.
The City of Prince George in northeastern B.C. considered how to regulate medical marijuana production last year, but decided against bringing in new zoning bylaws.
The Sechelt report noted municipal staff in Prince George were concerned that such bylaws would encroach on federal jurisdiction — since the federal government licenses medical marijuana growers — and instead asked Ottawa to create its own rules.
-- By James Keller in Vancouver
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