A controversial public hearing was held at the Windermere Community Hall on Monday, September 29th to discuss the important issue of the option to legally grow medical marijuana in the valley. The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors recently authorized public hearings for amendments to Official Community Plans or land use bylaws and zoning bylaws in RDEK Electoral Areas A, B, C, F and G. The suggested amendments cite new federal regulations for the commercial production of medical marijuana.
A total of four proposed bylaw amendments will essentially give a green light already given by the federal government on the growing of marijuana for medicinal purposes in ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) and I1 (light industrial) zoning areas including those covered under the Steamboat – Jubilee Mountain Official Community Plan; those under the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan Bylaw; those under Upper Columbia Valley Zoning Bylaw No. 900, 1992 and those covered under the Fairmont Hot Springs Area Official Community Plan.
Should the bylaws be adopted at the next RDEK board of directors meeting, growers in residential areas would not be permitted to apply for a permit; however, there are no restrictions on growing in the approved agricultural and industrial zoned areas, provided the would-be medical marijuana growing operations met the requirements specified by the government to classify them in the existing ALR and I1 categories.
“The right to farm medical marijuana now exists — you can start tomorrow with the application process. The amendments have been permitted at the senior-municipal levels. If an application was made on agricultural land it would be permitted,” said planning and technical specialist, Tracy Vanderwheele.
Concerned agriculturists voiced opinions about the presence of marijuana on farmland. The existing RR1 zoning bylaw states that medical marijuana would not be permitted because of its conflicting nature with a residential aspect of an existing bylaw.
“Even though the RR1 zoning bylaw exists, ALR takes precedent,” said Ms. Vanderwheele, adding that, legally speaking, it is clear that marijuana farming is a viable option and the choice to grow it is up to the discretion of the land owners.
“The RDEK is making more of a recommendation, with each individual deciding what approach to take,” she said.
Touted benefits to the approval of the bylaws included a reduction in criminal behaviour associated with illegal hydroponics and marijuana trafficking.
“There’s a lower probability of illegal use of it, after it’s been approved. Only use of industrial and ALR land will be permitted — we can’t prevent people from farming it,” said Ms. Vanderwheele.