With the end of the current system of distributing medical marijuana, members of the city's planning committee say they want to be prepared in case a commercial grower comes to town looking to operate in Sudbury.
To that end, they gave city staff approval to hold a public meeting to begin the process of deciding exactly what restrictions they want to put on any potential legal grown operation.
As of April 1, people with a license to receive medical pot can no longer grow their own, or get it free from Health Canada. They can only purchase it from approve commercial distributors.
Meeting Monday, some members of the planning committee wanted to be sure they were prepared if an application comes their way. City planner Eric Taylor said a commercial marijuana production could potentially go in a number of zoned areas – from light industrial to agricultural lands. The federal government is giving them the power to set down local rules and restrictions beforehand.
“It's an opportunity for us to take the reins,” Taylor said.
Ward 6 Coun. Andre Rivest suggested that old mines could be an ideal place, since they're much easier to secure.
“That may be the best solution,” Rivest said, who asked staff how many people in Sudbury have permits for medical marijuana.
But Taylor said any operation wouldn't be a retail outlet. Instead, they would grow for users across the country, and would somehow be shipped out.
Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour said he's glad that the federal government is giving cities a say on how things will operate. The city has virtually no control over cellphone tower locations and solar panel sites. And the current medical marijuana rules don't give them any say either, he said.
"There are a number of licensed grow-ops in the city right now, and they cause problems -- certainly they cause problems for the police," Kilgour said.
He said security is a major issue, and if they ever approved such an operation, it should be in a remote location “so there's not 50 neighbours around it.
“What bothers me is the deadline,” he said, which is only months away.
While the legislation takes effect April 1, Taylor said there's no deadline for the city to pass a bylaw. In fact, the public hearing wouldn't be held next week, although before summer is a good target.
But Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac said since Health Canada is changing its own rules, it should hold – and pay for – any public meetings.
"How much is it going to cost to hold these meetings?" Dutrisac asked.
With staff already overworked, and with money so tight, she said the city should deal with any application for a legal grow-op the way it would with any other application.
But city planner Mark Simeoni compared to when a bar owner opened next to the high school on Falconbridge Road 20 years ago. The owner made it a strip joint, something permitted under the zoning. So the city had to scramble and pass a law forcing anyone who wants to open a strip club to apply for a special license.
This is their chance to set out the rules before something similar happens, Simeoni said.
After April 1, people who have permission to buy pot for medical reasons will have to buy it from an approved commercial grower. Previously, they could grow their own or buy it from Health Canada. As of December 2012, there were more than 8,600 people in Ontario who were authorized to possess marijuana.
“The regulations aim to treat marijuana like other narcotics used for medical purposes and aims to create a new industry for the production and distribution of quality-controlled marijuana for medical purposes,” the staff report on the issue says. “The new regulations respond to numerous stakeholder concerns with the previous program, including the risk of abuse by criminal elements; health and fire risks associated with the cultivation of marijuana plants in homes; and patients’ concerns regarding the length and complexity of the application process.”
Health Canada will be responsible for inspecting and auditing marijuana producers, who have to follow strict rules regarding such things as product quality, personnel, record-keeping, safety and security. Medical marijuana will be distributed to registered clients through secure courier.
So if a producer were to apply to open a production facility in Sudbury, the city should be ready with a bylaw outlining local policies, the report advises.
“It can be anticipated that operators may attempt to establish federally licensed commercial production facilities in the city,” the staff report says “As such, it is necessary to contemplate the impacts from a planning perspective, in addition to all other relevant regulations, to mitigate the potential impact that these facilities could present relative to public safety and nuisances.”
Greater Sudbury Police have expressed concerns about the backgrounds of commercial growers, and want to ensure they are properly screened. Security measures at such a facility is also a key concern. Meanwhile, the Greater Sudbury Fire Department wants to ensure growers are following strict fire code regulations and are willing to open facilities to ongoing inspections.
“Medical marijuana production facilities are intended to be highly secure areas,” the report says. “To assist in maintaining a higher level of security for these sites, the city may consider requiring that they be separated from publicly accessible uses and residential areas which would include lands zoned residential, institutional, commercial, park and open space.”