The Municipality of North Grenville held a public meeting last week as part of the process to develop regulations governing the establishment of Cannabis production facilities in the municipality.
In August 2019, council put an interim bylaw in place prohibiting the establishment of Cannabis production facilities in the municipality while they conducted a study into current planning practices related to Cannabis facilities across the province. This was in response to a number of resident complaints about noise, odour and lighting emanating from North Grenville’s first Cannabis production facility, Fleurish Cannabis, on County Road 20 near Oxford Station.
On August 19, 2020, council extended the interim bylaw to allow more time to complete the study. Mayor Nancy Peckford said at the public meeting last Wednesday that it is important to get it right in terms of establishing well thought out and implemented regulations for Cannabis production facilities in North Grenville. “This council has certainly heard loud and clear that there were obviously some challenges and concerns regarding the regulatory framework for Cannabis production facilities throughout North Grenville,” she said. “We had a bit of a rocky ride, as I think some of you know with our first one and we do as a council, and now obviously with significant staff support, want to strengthen certainly the standards, if you will, or the way in which the municipality decides the how, the where and the what.”
Director of Planning and Development, Amy Martin, has reviewed all the options available to council to regulate Cannabis production facilities in the municipality. Over the past few months, she has reviewed the federal framework regarding the production and sale of Cannabis, provincial policies, the municipality’s own official plan and zoning by-laws, and surveyed more than 20 other municipalities across Ontario to see what they have done to regulate Cannabis production facilities in their own jurisdictions. Through her research and the municipality’s own experience, Director Martin noted that some of the main issues to consider in siting facilities included; odour, noise, light pollution, security and crime, land use compatibility and set backs from sensitive land uses, like residential developments, schools or community centres.
The Federal Cannabis Act addresses a couple of these concerns as Cannabis production facilities are required to have physical security measures, including video monitoring in place, to prevent crime. Director Martin says the regulations are also becoming more stringent around having air ventilation within the physical buildings to prevent odours from escaping.
An important piece of provincial legislation that regulates certain land uses in Ontario is the Farming and Food Protection Act which determines what should be considered a normal farm practice. Anything that is deemed a normal farm practice would be allowed in an agricultural zone, without having to go through a site-specific zoning by-law amendment. The issue is currently under review by the Normal Farm Practices Board in the case of Burnstown Cannabis Farm v. Beckwith Township. For now , it is up to municipalities to deem whether or not they would like to consider Cannabis production as a normal farm practice.
The municipality will also have to decide on the appropriate zoning category for Cannabis production facilities. Director Martin’s report recommends that they be permitted in industrial zones because they are in areas that are further away from residential areas, and more ideal for the establishment of industrial and manufacturing facilities. The report also outlined the option for allowing Cannabis production in agricultural zones, even if it is not deemed a normal farm practice, through a site specific zoning bylaw amendment. It also suggests that small scale cannabis production, such as micro processing and micro-cultivation, could be permitted in a rural-industrial zone as they are less likely to have an impact on neighbouring land uses.
Director Martin noted that council may want to give consideration for the niche craft market for Cannabis as it is something that is becoming more desirable to Canadian consumers.
Mayor Peckford noted that setbacks from sensitive land uses will be important as, in council’s experience, the risk of odour emanating from these facilities is still there regardless of whether they have a sophisticated air filtration system or not. “I have a feeling that our appetite will be to ensure those setbacks are there because the malfunctioning of equipment, if you don’t change the filters often enough, the stench, if you will, from indoor growing facilities can be quite strong,” she said.
North Grenville resident Aaron Nichols is happy to see that the municipality is taking the issue seriously and is open to engaging with residents when it comes to regulating this emerging industry. He believes the municipality needs to take a strong stance when it comes to setting the tone for Cannabis production facilities in North Grenville. “I would err on the side of caution when we set up provisions like setbacks,” he said. “I think that if we set fairly aggressive standards in the bylaw, we can always back down from those in a bylaw amendment.” He also believes that the municipality needs to have some recourse when it comes to businesses not abiding by the regulations set out by the municipality. “I would be worried that if there aren’t teeth in the rules, we may struggle a little bit to enforce them locally,” he said.
The full Cannabis study can be found on the municipality’s website under Cannabis. Written comments are being accepted until March 30. Director Martin will be taking public input into consideration as she drafts the zoning bylaw provisions and another public meeting will be set for the second Wednesday in May. “Being able to have these discussions with the community to get their impact, hear their expertise, to hear their concerns, is important in ensuring that we’re introducing zoning provisions into North Grenville that really meet the community’s desires and vision of North Grenville,” she said. “I am but one person and I do value that feedback.” The interim control bylaw is set to expire in August 2021, however Director Martin says she is planning to have the finalized zoning bylaw provisions ready for council’s approval well before that date.