Change is in the Wind

June 01, 2018 | Posted by OPPI | Post Contributed by Mat Vaughan, RPP | Cannabis, Cannabis Planning Policy, Policy
Change is in the Wind

Downtown Simcoe, ON. Courtesy of norfolktourism.ca

Can you imagine living next to 10,000 skunks?  For some Ontario residents, this is their new reality.

In the summer of 2018, the federal government will legalize the recreational use of cannabis. In Ontario, the proposed legislation is being tabled under the Ontario Cannabis Act; new provincial legislation that would support the province's transition to the federal legalization of cannabis.

This change in federal legislation will have land use planning implications in relation to the retail sale of cannabis, and the agricultural production and processing of cannabis materials.

Norfolk County, Ontario.

As the result of changes to federal cannabis licensing and regulations, and the formation of the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), a new category of cannabis production in the form of individual/designated grower, also known as alternative production sites, has emerged. In the absence of strict federal regulations, the alternative production sites have stemmed an array of land use conflict complaints across Norfolk County and the agricultural landscape of Ontario.

The new alternative production sites started to become a land-use issue for the residents of Norfolk County in the summer of 2017. By then, several large existing greenhouses had been converted to cannabis production, and were emanating plumes of odours originating from the growth and processing of the cannabis plant.

As a key player in agricultural commodities, and a former tobacco community, Norfolk County has experienced the dramatic effects of the alternative production sites, sparking land use complaints regarding the on-going onslaught of odour emissions. Unlike licensed facilities, the alternative production sites have very few parameters in place to avoid such land use conflicts.

Farmland in Norfolk County

For instance, there are no control measures to regulate odour emissions. What makes matters more interesting is the size and scale of the alternative production sites are determined by the prescription that allows an individual to ‘grow their own’. Some of these prescriptions, permit an individual to grow in the area of a thousand plants. The regulations permit a maximum of four registrations per address. And if there are multiple addresses on one property, this compounds the problem further. This means one property could be growing tens of thousands of Cannabis plants, without any type of air quality control, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The County is presently aware of approximately 30 alternative production sites within its borders contributing to this problem.

What started off as a medical necessity for some, had quickly become an exploited black market opportunity for others. Norfolk’s elected officials were being called daily with complaints from residents no longer being able to live in their homes, in many cases next to these facilities.

Their homes and clothes were absorbing the smell of cannabis, and their children were having to go to school smelling like cannabis, leaving their parents to explain the situation. Neighbours of these facilities were being directly and negatively affected, and their only recourse was to call anyone who would listen.

Searching for answers

Initially, residents reached out to Health Canada. According to Health Canada officials, people choosing to produce cannabis for medical purposes need “to take measures so that other people do not know you are growing marijuana, or producing cannabis, for your own medical purposes.”

Cannabis plant.

Further discussions with Health Canada officials revealed there is presently no federal resources available to conduct inspections of the existing or future registered alternative production sites. This means while licenses and registrations are being given out at an accelerated rate, it leaves municipalities on the hook to implement local rules and regulations to protect sensitive land uses.

Municipalities need to know they have the ability to create and implement zoning provisions around cannabis production and processing, and by not doing so, they are potentially leaving the door open to inevitable land use conflicts.

After coming to a dead end with Health Canada, and the Province of Ontario still attempting to understand the impacts of federal legislation, residents asked the County to help solve this problem. That’s when the Norfolk County Planning Department stepped in to address the issue.

Municipal regulations to the rescue

Many rural communities are struggling to define whether cannabis should be considered an agricultural crop, or pharmaceutical product. While the jury is still out on this definition, the rural community of Norfolk County has taken a stand on this matter, and for good reason.

A street in Simcoe, ON

With no clear direction from the Province of Ontario, municipalities are left to develop their own approach to resolve odour issues around cannabis production. At this time, cannabis hasn’t been deemed a normal farm practice, nor has it been deemed to cause an adverse effect by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).

Norfolk County’s Zoning By-law already regulates Medical Marihuana Production Facilities, which was deemed to apply to both the licensed and alternative production sites. All types and forms of cannabis production and processing were required to comply with the County’s current Zoning By-law provisions.

In response to the escalating odour issue, Norfolk County revoked several addresses where it was discovered the properties were not complying with the County’s Zoning By-law. In Norfolk County, people can apply for additional addresses for various agricultural reasons. If owners have more than one address, and they are using it for an unlawful reason, this extra address can be revoked.

Port Dover, ON

In addition, with the guidance of a local Cannabis Taskforce, the County has recently undertaken a zoning By-law update t to update the provisions around cannabis production and processing, requiring a greater separation between cannabis production and processing use, and a sensitive land use:

  • Now approved and declared, the By-law requires a 300-metre separation between cannabis production and processing use (where air treatment control is not used), and sensitive land use such as residential developments.
  • Where odours are controlled, a 150-metre separation is required. In addition, all forms of cannabis production and processing are only permitted in the Industrial and Agricultural zones, and are under site plan control.
  • Furthermore, and perhaps more controversial at the moment, the County has removed cannabis from the definition of a ‘farm’, now deeming it to be a pharmaceutical/industrial use, as opposed to an agricultural use.
  • The County is now actively pursuing By-law enforcement to resolve the existing and new cannabis production and processing uses, and developing a county-wide odour control By-law as an additional regulatory tool for non-agricultural odour emissions.

This is only the beginning for land-use regulations as it relates to cannabis production and processing, and the growth of the industry isn’t likely to be smooth. As a lucrative commodity, there is a growing interest in cannabis production.

As the industry takes shape, operators are looking for avenues to save money to keep their profit margins healthy. This means we will continue to see a trend towards using less expensive infrastructure such as greenhouses as opposed to factory buildings.

Simcoe, ON

There is no indication that a greenhouse can be adequately ventilated without causing adverse effects to surrounding land-uses. It is clear, there needs to be provincial regulation and federal control over these facilities to create a consistent policy framework both provincially and federally.

While Norfolk County encourages agricultural entrepreneurism, the Zoning By-law provides a land use tool to be courteous and respectful to our residential neighbours so that no one has to live next door to 10,000 skunks! 

For more information on the Norfolk County Zoning By-law as it pertains to Cannabis production and processing, please contact the Norfolk County Planning Department – Mat Vaughan, Principal Planner at mat.vaughan@norfolkcounty.ca

All photos (excepting the cannabis plant) were kindly provided by Norfolktourism.ca