ALR land adjacent to the Dunes golf course is slated to become home to a large-scale marijuana production facility
Agricultural land in Westsyde is being prepped for large-scale outdoor cannabis production — the first facility of its kind in Kamloops in the era of legalized weed — and some nearby residents are concerned.
Interest in outdoor growing has thus far resulted in projects in mostly rural areas, including an operation in Westwold.
This one, adjacent to the Dunes, is in city limits and visible from Westsyde Road.
“Pot plants, when they’re in full bloom, are pretty smelly,” one resident who lives close to the facility, which is under construction, told KTW.
“That’s concerning, if it’s a strong smell all summer long. We’re not against marijuana. I’m not offended by the smell of marijuana. But that’s another level.”
The proposed outdoor operation is slated for property at 4045 Westsyde Rd., owned by Bill Bilton.
Bilton leased 30 acres to his son, Bill Bilton Jr., and more than a dozen other investors operating under the company Dunesberry Farms, which is seeking a federal license to grow cannabis outdoors and is about three quarters through the application process.
The younger Bilton said outdoor growing comes at a fraction of the cost and with a smaller environmental footprint compared to indoor facilities.
“What would you rather have, an outdoor tomato or an indoor tomato?” Bilton Jr. asked, noting Kamloops is ripe for growing cannabis outdoors.
“If you threw a dart at Canada, this is the spot. Low humidity, lots of sun, fresh water, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a great spot.”
It is unclear when the facility may receive licensing, but investors are hoping to plant next year. Bilton Jr. said he expects the operation to create up to 30 jobs.
Work, meanwhile, is already underway. Excavation is ongoing and the foundation has been poured for a commercial processing facility, which would operate one month of the year post-harvest for trimming, drying and packaging.
Bilton Jr. said the facility must be completed prior to a federal licence being granted, as per Health Canada rules.
The group got ahead of itself, however, pouring foundation for the processing facility prior to issuance of a city building permit.
Bilton said the process is new to everyone, which has resulted in some confusion.
“We got a little bit ahead, unknowingly,” he said.
The city’s building department told KTW it is working through the application and Bilton expects a permit imminently.
The ongoing project, clearly visible from Westsyde Road, has left neighbours worried and feeling in the dark.
“We don’t really know much because they won’t tell you much,” one resident, who asked not to be identified, said.
“You get the impression they don’t want to say much until they get it off the ground.”
Residents who spoke with KTW under the condition of anonymity expressed concerns about not only the potential smell, but lights, security and impacts to property values.
Homeowners are not interested in being guinea pigs in an era of legalization and point to a regulatory gap for outdoor growing.
“Where do residents go if they have a concern?” one neighbour asked.
Health Canada requires processing facilities to have proper ventilation but does not regulate smell of outdoor grow operations.
The City of Kamloops property use inspector Dave Jones explained city bylaws prohibit growing cannabis on agricultural land, but the city has no say on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve — as is Bilton’s land in Westsyde.
“The agriculture commission deemed it [cannabis] an agriculture product, no different than grapes,” Jones said.
“Under the right to farm, they have a right to grow cannabis. However, to grow cannabis, you need a federal license and you’ve got to meet some of their criteria. So the city will have no say at all. The only way we would have a say on it was if it was in agricultural land but it wasn’t in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Because it’s in the reserve, the provincial government trumps our regulations and says that they can grow it.”
Bilton is leaning on the regulations, which he said have been followed.
Asked about communication with residents and their concerns, he said he has spoken with people who have had questions.
“We met with probably five or six people, coming down there on site,” he said.
“Nobody’s come out now, once we did that. We’ve met all the regulations, so we were just going along keeping it nice and simple and quiet so that we could do that and then what they’ll see is pretty simple. I can see their point, if it was night lights and the big indoor greenhouses and stuff like that. Different thing all together.”
As for their other concerns, Bilton Jr. described the operation as “safe,” with the site encircled by an eight-foot fence and monitored by security year-round.
As for the scent, it may be the new norm.
Jones said rightly or wrongly people chose to live in agricultural areas — places where pigs, cattle and horses are just as likely to make things smelly.
Bilton Jr. called it a legal farming product.
“I suppose it’s a lot better smell than driving through Chilliwack,” he said.