It’s worth noting, right off the bat, that no one in this suburban Ontario city, west of Toronto, is looking to rebrand their town as Marijuana Mississauga (tempting as it may be to start a new Twitter trend).
The purpose of a new city bylaw aimed at regulating commercial marijuana grow-ops is far more practical:
“For us, it is really all about safety for our community and for our families,” said Jim Tovey, a Mississauga municipal councillor in an interview with Yahoo Canada News.
The bylaw was approved earlier this month, making Mississauga the first city in Canada to licence legal medical marijuana growers who set up shop within the city boundaries.
It’s not intended as an open invitation for pot growers to come to town. Tovey said city leaders were prompted to take local action following new federal regulations restricting who has the authority to produce medical marijuana.
Hundreds of companies have applied to produce medical marijuana. However, to date, there are 16 companies licensed to manufacture and sell medical cannabis listed on the Health Canada website, with an estimated 37,000 Canadians medically approved to use it.
But it’s the future projections that really caught Tovey’s attention: With licensed users expected to soar to over 240,000 by 2021, the number of producers will also increase sharply.
“Some of these operations are clearly going to be very large. It is certainly a growing business,” he said, adding the industry has big implications for municipalities.
One of the licensed producers, U.S.-based CEN Biotech, plans to open the country’s biggest grow-op in southwestern Ontario, according to the Globe and Mail.
Under the new bylaw, commercial cannabis producers in Mississauga will be restricted to where and how they can do business. The city is already home to a large number of pharmaceutical firms, and Tovey sees licensed medical marijuana growers as no different.
“We’ve determined appropriate locations within certain industrial zones where they can set up shop – this way they are guaranteed not to be situated by schools or residential neighbourhoods or office buildings,” he said.
Like any other operation, medical cannabis companies will be required to pay commercial property tax and hold a valid business licence. The bylaw sets out the price at $250 for the first year, with annual renewal fees of $200 – a rate “in line with other city licence fees,” city staff wrote in their report to council.
Tovey said the new rules will allow the city to go and inspect the premises to ensure they are in compliance with fire and building codes, as well as health and safety and emissions.
“Those are really good tools for us,” he said.
According to the city report, enforcement staff is aware of two medical marijuana production facilities looking to set up operations. Both have received approval, subject to a number of conditions, but neither is technically operating since they have not received their Health Canada licence.
It remains up to federal government to regulate the quality of the marijuana sold through commercial operations, and to ensure the product is heading to licensed users and not to the illicit drug market. In the past, Health Canada has been criticized for having too few inspectors and too many growers.