Thompson-Nicola Regional District residents don’t necessarily want to sell weed, but they want to grow it.
Most cannabis-related public inquiries to the TBRD are for production, primarily micro-production, or craft, growers, in rural areas.
“In the past two months, really since legalization, staff have received inquiries almost daily and it’s mainly regarding production and craft production,” TNRD planning manager Alex Krause said.
“It’s not been retail, although we just received our first rezoning application a couple of days ago, so that will be coming before the board in the next couple months.”
The TNRD board last week asked staff to draft bylaw changes that would make it easier to grow cannabis on a small-scale in the region. Staff recommended reducing parcel requirements from eight hectares to four hectares for micro-scale productions (operations less than 200 square metres) and setbacks from 50 metres to 30 metres.
Meanwhile, staff recommended a continued ban on retail recreational cannabis sales in commercial zones. The ban was put in place prior to legalization to prevent grandfathering in illegal dispensaries. Staff are recommending maintaining that ban, in order to have more control and assess stores on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, Krause said, the TNRD does not anticipate having many retail license applications in rural areas.
“In cases where we do, in certain areas, it might be best that we encourage those retail uses to move to our member municipalities, not in fringe areas,” he said. “But in the few cases that we might have, where it’s in a rural area, maybe a generalist neighbourhood store, those are the ones that we can look at on a case-by-case basis.”
As it looks to loosen the rules for cannabis producers, Krause told KTW the TNRD strives to strike a balance, due to odour concerns. Setbacks are the only tool the regional district has to control such impacts on nearby residents.
Staff have heard complaints related to illegal cannabis production in the past. About a dozen or so operate in the TNRD, none of which meet Health Canada requirements.
“We hear from the general public, who are scared, and rightfully so, that the impacts of odour can be quite high in a residential, rural neighbourhood,” Krause said.
“Proponents argue there is no smell because the air scrubbers, all the technology that Health Canada makes them put in, there just won’t be any odour. We don’t know the truth to that yet. We haven’t gone out to do any testing. … What we have yet to see, or yet to smell, is how the Health Canada approved ones will function.”
Since 2013, the TNRD has been notified of 17 formal cannabis-related applications to Health Canada, including 16 medical and one recreational. None have been approved so far.
One building permit has been issued and another application is awaiting Agricultural Land Commission approval. In December, the board approved a non-farm-use application to be forwarded to the commission, for a 25,000-square-foot building with concrete flooring for cannabis production on Duck Hill Ranch in Barnhartvale.
With about one in 10 applications to Health Canada successful, Krause noted “quite a failure rate.” So far in Canada, 146 production facilities have been approved.
TNRD staff will now prepare a draft bylaw, including feedback from agencies such as Interior Health and various ministries, prior to finalizing any changes that could encourage more cannabis growing in the region. After that, the report will be brought back to the board and public input will be sought.
“We’re probably looking at the next few months,” Krause told KTW.