No cannabis production on agriculture land, Strathcona County council says

·3 min read
Strathcona County council voted Tuesday night to not allow new cannabis production facilities on agricultural land.  (Travis McEwan/CBC - image credit)
Strathcona County council voted Tuesday night to not allow new cannabis production facilities on agricultural land. (Travis McEwan/CBC - image credit)

No new cannabis production facilities will be going up on agricultural land in Strathcona County in the near future, county council decided Tuesday night at the end of a public hearing.

Council voted 7-2 to remove the option of allowing cannabis operations in the agriculture general zoning district.

In late February, Coun. Paul Smith suggested that council review the bylaw they approved in 2018 that paves the way for such facilities.

"We need to provide certainty, clarity to business; we need to provide certainty to residents," Smith said.

'We thought large cannabis production operations were going to be wonderful economic drivers but that has turned out not to be the thing for agriculture."

Since 2018, the county approved four applications for cannabis facilities; one was overturned by the subdivision and development appeal board and one company chose to set up in a neighbouring jurisdiction.

Two applications remain and will be allowed to build with their current permits, under the new bylaw.

One of the main arguments heard at the public hearing is that the county's prime agricultural soil should not be used to grow cannabis.

Mayor Rod Frank said council has heard from residents who, for four years, have expressed concern with big operations on agricultural land.

"The nature of the business is industrial," Frank said. "The scale of the business, the employees it takes to run the business, the traffic, the water requirements, the wastewater, the power, the firefighting — that all speaks to the industrial nature of the business."

The county allows cannabis production in industrial zones now, he noted.

"That's not speaking against the product," Frank added.

Coun. Glen Lawrence agreed the county should tweak the rules, that residents are clearly saying they don't want the facilities in the agricultural zone.

"It's the residents we represent, and they're the ones that we answer to," Lawrence said. "We're not saying 'no' to cannabis, we're just saying 'not in this particular area.' "

Lawrence said he's confident the county will sort out how to make cannabis businesses work in appropriate areas.

Never and No

Councillors Robert Parks and Brian Botterill voted against the restriction.

"The motion that we're passing today means 'never and no,'" Parks said. "I can't get to the point where I don't believe that in some way, cannabis is not agriculture."

"Apparently a plant that is grown in dirt legally is not allowed to be grown in good dirt legally in Strathcona County," Parks said. "That is just grossly problematic for me."

Botterill also argued that cannabis production should remain a discretionary option.

"We're not in a situation where it makes sense to say not now, not ever, not anywhere," Botterill argued.

Trust the county's professional planners to make the call on whether a development proposal is appropriate, he said.

He said companies will continue to cultivate cannabis outdoors.

Several residents spoke during the public hearing and the argument was consistent — that cannabis operations should be in industrial zones, not agricultural.

One couple, Bill and Amanda Kutz, have been opposing the proposed developments on agricultural land.

With fences and security guards, they look like industrial facilities and involve heavy use of municipal services, including waste removal, water, power and transportation roadways, they argued.

'I would like to make it very clear that I'm not speaking against the product, I have no issues with the product," Bill Kutz said.