A review of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s bylaw controlling cannabis operations has resulted in council approving more stringent regulations, including limiting production and processing facilities to locations zoned for industrial use.
Councillors are also taking a stand against any outdoor cultivation of a cannabis crop, if possible, or with at least a 400-metre setback.
Coun. Wendy Cheropita, one of four members on the Town committee charged with reviewing the cannabis bylaw, said the intent is to save good agricultural land for specialty crops such as tender fruit and grapes, from being used for growing cannabis.
“We have this incredible specialty crop land,” she said. “We want to protect that. Cannabis doesn’t require good soil. It can be grown anywhere.”
Also on the committee are Couns. Stuart McCormack and Erwin Wiens, along with Kai Wiens, chair of the agricultural committee.
Cheropita told council Monday she would like to remove the wording of the proposed bylaw that refers to a 400-metre setback if a crop is to be grown outdoors, and just flatly eliminate the possibility of outdoor cultivation, but was told the planning department would look at all possibilities, and come back with a draft bylaw for council to approve.
Outdoor crops have an odour that lasts for three months and can’t be controlled, she said, and that research shows is detectable a kilometre away.
The bylaw as suggested by the committee says enclosed facilities must have a setback of at least 250 metres from neighbouring property lines, public schools, churches, daycare facilities or a designated heritage building or district.
Coun. Norm Arsenault said he doesn’t think 250 metres is far enough, but Cheropita explained the committee picked a number that wasn’t intended to be final, while waiting for staff’s advice on the appropriate distance.
“I’d like to see it as far back as we can legally get away with,” said Coun. John Wiens. “If 500 metres is okay, then 700 metres would be better.” He said he’s also opposed to any outdoor cultivation of cannabis.
The suggested bylaw states an operation must be limited to the production, processing and packaging of cannabis on behalf of the holder of the licence for the premises on which the facility is located, and must have approved odour control, lighting from inside the building must not be visible outside from sunset to sunrise, and security fencing must have landscape buffering.
Cheropita said the committee looked at a substantial amount of research and data, including federal and provincial regulations, the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs research and what other municipalities are doing to control the cannabis industry.
Councillors heard last week about plans for a “sun-grown, open-soil” seasonal cannabis operation for 930 Airport Rd. They weren’t being asked to make a decision, and Cheropita said they know there are others waiting in the wings with plans for indoor and outdoor operations.
“That’s not the only one with plans of operating in our community,” she said. “We can’t leave ourselves vulnerable.”
During the committee’s research, Cheropita said she discovered it costs about $2 to $3 to produce a gram of cannabis in an indoor facility, and 20 to 27 cents a gram if grown outdoors, making that an attractive option that will put pressure on the use of agricultural land.
“It’s a very lucrative business, and with it comes challenges.”
It’s important to begin working on a bylaw to control what’s to come, and to have the interim control bylaw also in effect in the meantime, she said.
“We’re still extending the interim control bylaw in case we need it as we go through the process. We don’t want to leave the community at risk while waiting for the bylaw to be passed.”
Council hopes to see a draft bylaw by September, following which an open house is planned to allow the public to weigh in.
Although cannabis is considered an agricultural crop, Cheropita added, “it has restrictions, such as fencing and a certain amount of security. It doesn’t feel like any other agricultural crop.”