September 19, 2023

No cannabis production on farmland, says Strathcona County Council

No new cannabis production facilities will be installed on Strathcona County farmland in the near future, the county council ruled Tuesday evening after a public hearing.

Council voted 7-2 to remove the option to allow cannabis operations in the general agricultural zoning district.

End of February, Con. Paul Smith suggested that the council revise the bylaw it approved in 2018 that paves the way for such facilities.

“We have to provide certainty, clarity to businesses; we have to provide certainty to residents,” Smith said.

“We thought the big cannabis operations were going to be wonderful economic engines, but that turned out not to be the thing for agriculture. ”

Since 2018, the county has approved four applications for cannabis facilities; one was overturned by the subdivision and development appeal board and one company chose to locate in a neighboring jurisdiction.

Two applications remain and will be allowed to build with their current permits, under the new regulations.

One of the main arguments heard at the public hearing is that the county’s primary agricultural soil should not be used for growing cannabis.

Mayor Rod Frank said council heard from residents who for four years have expressed concern over large operations on farmland.

“The nature of business is industrial,” Frank said. “The size of the business, the employees needed to run the business, the traffic, the water requirements, sewage, electricity, firefighting – all of this is a testament to the industrial nature of the business. . “

The county now allows the production of cannabis in industrial areas, he noted.

“It’s not against the product,” Frank added.

Com. Glen Lawrence agreed the county should change the rules, with residents making it clear they don’t want facilities in the agricultural zone.

“These are the residents we represent, and they are the ones we respond to,” said Lawrence. “We’re not saying ‘no’ to cannabis, we’re just saying ‘not in this particular area’.”

Lawrence said he was confident the county would figure out how to make cannabis companies work in the right areas.

Never and No

Councilors Robert Parks and Brian Botterill voted against the restriction.

“The motion we are passing today means ‘never and no’,” Parks said. “I can’t get to the point where I don’t believe that somehow cannabis is not agriculture.”

“Apparently, a plant that is grown in land legally is not allowed to be grown in good soil legally in Strathcona County,” Parks said. “It’s just extremely problematic for me.”

Botterill also argued that cannabis production should remain a discretionary option.

“We are not in a situation where it makes sense to say neither now, nor ever, or nowhere,” Botterill argued.

Trust professional county planners to decide whether a development proposal is appropriate, he said.

He said the companies would continue to grow cannabis outdoors.

Several residents spoke at the public hearing and the argument was consistent: Cannabis farms should be located in industrial, non-agricultural areas.

A couple, Bill and Amanda Kutz, opposed the proposed developments on farmland.

With fences and security guards, they look like industrial plants and involve heavy use of municipal services, including garbage removal, water, electricity and transport roads, they argued.

“I want to make it very clear that I am not speaking against the product, I have no problem with the product,” Bill Kutz said.