Additional public hearing sought on medical marijuana bylaw

The regional district will give the public another opportunity to voice their concerns after a recent hearing was sparsely attended

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine is hoping to get more people to share their opinion on a proposed medical marijuana bylaw by hosting another public hearing this fall.

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine wants more citizens to share their thoughts on its proposed medical marijuana bylaw, and will offer another public hearing on the matter this fall after a recent one was sparsely attended.

A public hearing in Terrace July 19 had less than 10 residents show up and a hearing the following night in New Hazelton was attended by only one person.

“We’ve recessed it and we will reconvene at a future date and time appointed by the regional district board, potentially looking at some time in the fall,” said Nicholas Redpath, a planner with the regional district.

The district has been looking into a bylaw on this matter since 2014, around the same time that new legislation from Health Canada made it so that legal access to medical marijuana would be provided by licensed producers at large scale commercial production facilities.

This decision by Health Canada built upon its previous program, which allowed individuals to obtain small scale grow op licenses for the purpose of producing medical marijuana.

The regional district is hoping that its bylaw will allow it to regulate certain aspects of these production facilities should someone try and open one here.

The residents that attended the July 19 public hearing had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the bylaw.

Representatives from the regional district were receptive to these ideas in making their decision to host another public hearing at a later date.

Voicing concern

Ronald Town, a longtime Thornhill and regional district resident, said he was concerned that the public hearing occurred in the middle of summer at a time when many people are away on vacation. He felt that it meant many were missing out on having their voices heard.

“I just feel that more citizens need to be around here,” Town said after the public hearing. “Traditionally July and August there are a lot of people away.”

He said, for example, that he estimated almost half the people on his street in Thornhill were currently away.

Town also said that he felt like the public hearing was not given proper notice and many people were not aware the hearing was even taking place.

“There was really hardly any warning whatsoever that this was coming,” Town said.

A notice of the public hearing was published in the July 6 and 13 issues of the Terrace Standard; the July 8 and 15 issues of the Northern Connector; as well as in the Bulkley Browser newspaper.

Currently, the only area where a medical marijuana production facility can legally operate in the regional district is on land that is part of the agricultural land reserve (ALR).

ALR falls under provincial jurisdiction. And a local government or the regional district has no say in the matter if an individual wants to open a medical marijuana production facility on the ALR.

“We have no say over that – they trump our legislation. So without this bylaw they could still go ahead,” Redpath said. However with the proposed bylaw, he said the regional district would be able to regulate and manage a medical marijuana facility should one open up on the ALR.

“This bylaw introduces different legislation and restrictions – setbacks, distances away from residential property lines, size restrictions, height restrictions, and setbacks from schools, parks, things like that,” Redpath said.

Specifically, if someone wanted to open a facility on the ALR, the proposed bylaw would ensure the facility was 150 metres from the property line of any site that contained a community hall, school, daycare, church or community park.

“Right now we don’t have the power to stop them, we just have the power to add restrictions to it,” Redpath said.

Besides specific points of interest, the proposed bylaw has a general requirement that marijuana facility must be at least 30 metres from all property lines. This is similar to a zoning bylaw update the City of Terrace enacted in 2014, making it so that a medical marijuana facility would only be permitted if it was located in the ALR and at a minimum distance of 30 metres away from all parcel lines.

The regional district’s proposed bylaw does not apply to the City of Terrace and vice versa.

Industrial exemption

Terrace resident Jennifer Morgan raised another concern at the public hearing about an exemption in the proposed bylaw regarding industrial land.

It stipulates that medical marijuana production facilities shall be permitted within the light industrial and restricted industrial zones of  electoral district “E,” which is Thornhill.

“Do we really need to put that in our industrial area when we have land reserves all over for it to be?” Morgan said after the hearing. “My concern is that the public and the industries are not aware that the district would like to take this one step past the [agricultural] land and put it to some industrial lands.”

Redpath said the district consulted with the Thornhill Advisory Planning Commission, who felt that since a medical marijuana production facility was an industrial use, it could be potentially suitable to have it in sites that are zoned industrial.

“Why push them outside when we could have them closer in for tax reasons?” Redpath said.

Redpath also said having a production facility built on industrial land in Thornhill, as opposed to the ALR, would allow a medical marijuana facility to be closer to services such as community water, police and fire emergency services.

He added that some larger industrially zoned properties in Thornhill could potentially accommodate these marijuana production facilities, but that doesn’t mean they all could because the land, whether it is ALR or industrial, would still be subject to the bylaw’s other requirements, such as being 150 metres away from a school.

The bylaw has already gone through first and second reading. After another public hearing, a third reading will be required before adoption.