The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS) has drafted a medical marijuana bylaw aimed at preventing grow-ops from cropping up near schools, daycare centres and hobby farms.
Prompted by changes to the way medical marijuana is being handled by federal and provincial law, the regional district started reviewing its zoning policies in July 2014.
Growing marijuana is legally permitted in areas within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and some of that land is close to public facilities, including schools, in Terrace and Hazelton.
Local governments are not allowed to prohibit medical marijuana facilities on ALR land, but the RDKS wants to ensure its zoning includes provisions to prevent grow-ops sprouting too close to certain places.
The draft bylaw requires medical marijuana facilities to be at least 150 metres away from schools, daycare centres, parks, churches, community halls and campgrounds.
It also requires the property being used to be at least 10 acres in size, a measure aimed at keeping the facilities out of small-lot subdivisions and hobby-farm areas.
Without a new bylaw, RDKS bylaw enforcement officer Murray Daly said medical marijuana could be permitted in some residential areas.
“We allow hobby-farms and agricultural use in the Thornhill area and small-lot residential lots are allowed, agriculture, hobby-farm type stuff in small proximity of other areas,” said Daly.
“If you don’t have something in place that specifically regulates medical marijuana then it could potentially crop up … almost anywhere.”
The RDKS draft bylaw is currently being circulated among relevant agencies including the Coast Mountains School District (CMSD).
Its Thornhill Elementary School in Terrace is near pockets of ALR land, as is the Hazelton Secondary School.
Daly said there could be changes to the draft based on feedback from agencies.
“That’s why it’s being circulated to ensure we can regulate the things that we put in there to regulate,” he said.
“If you put in things like no facilities within 2,000 metres of a daycare facility that might be seen as being too restrictive.”
CMSD board chair Art Erasmus said the board had provided a letter of support for the bylaw with a suggestion to increase the 150 metre setback distance from schools.
“There was some discussion with our board meeting that a little larger holdback might be helpful and we’ve forwarded that on to them,” he said.
He said the school district’s level of concern over a grow-op would depend on its exact conditions and location.
The RDKS is not aware of any current applications to grow medical marijuana in its district.
Health Canada, which processes and approves or rejects the applications, said earlier this month there were 324 open applications.
The federal health authority has received a total 1,250 applications since new regulations were introduced in June 2013, but a spokesperson said it could not provide figures for individual districts.
RDKS planning manager Andrew Weber said the decision to draft the bylaw came from within his organization and was not prompted by public concerns.
Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) planning director Jason Llewellyn was aware of two applications to grow medical marijuana in the district, one in Topley and another closer to Smithers.
However, with the applications being made through Health Canada, he did not know how far those applications had progressed.
Llewellyn said the RDBN’s zoning provisions were sufficient to manage medical marijuana applications and his district was not planning to introduce a specific bylaw.
“They’re dealt with in our zoning bylaw like most municipalities would, so identifying which zones they are appropriate in,” he said.