VANCOUVER - Local and Indigenous governments in British Columbia will be permitted to prevent marijuana production in their communities on land that is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve, but with conditions.
The Ministry of Agriculture said Friday the regulatory change is effective immediately and gives governments the right to prevent industrial-style, cement-based and cannabis-production bunkers in their communities.
However, the ministry said pot production can't be prohibited if it's grown lawfully in an open field, in a structure that is soil based, or in an existing licensed operation.
“It's not everything we were wanting, I don't think. It's a start,” said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who has been outspoken against marijuana growing operations on the land reserve in her city.
The Agricultural Land Reserve, or ALR, is a provincial designation that covers about 46,000 square kilometres in B.C. where agriculture is recognized as the priority use. Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are restricted.
The changes pertain only to land within the reserve, because local governments can already regulate or prohibit pot production on lands outside the reserve.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities, the voice of local governments in the province, had asked the provincial government to put a moratorium on the use of agricultural land to grow cannabis.
Jackson said she was pleased the province had taken some action with the announcement Friday, but she described it as a “small step.” She's concerned about the security risks and odour of cannabis operations in open fields.
She's also worried about the conversion of food crops to marijuana crops. There is relatively little land in B.C. to grow food, but nearly 100 square kilometres of it is in Delta, and it would be a “travesty” for the province to rely on other countries for food, she said.
Jackson predicted it will be difficult for farmers to see marijuana cultivators earning so much money.
“It may just look very attractive for them to get out of the tomato business, or the growing of cucumbers and potatoes, in favour of taking the money and going,” she said.
In turn, that would increase the average assessed value of farmland, which would put it out of reach of the normal farmer who wants to buy it to grow potatoes, she added.
Jackson said these issues should have all been considered well in advance of legalization by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.
“The homework has not been done, and the fallout from some of the things the federal government has decreed doesn't fall on the federal government, it falls on local government.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said farmers in the Vancouver Island city who raise crops on the land reserve pay much lower taxes than manufacturers who make products in industrial areas.
“While it might be agricultural in nature, (marijuana) is not food,” he said.
“The lower tax rates that we have for ALR land is intended to be able to provide an opportunity for people to grow food, not a high-profit crop.”
One of Canada's leading producers of medical cannabis, Tilray Inc., operates in an industrial zone in Nanaimo and pays the full commercial tax rate, McKay noted. Tilray is one of 31 producers that have inked deals with the province to supply recreational weed to stores once it's legal.
The city has not seen any applications from producers to grow on agricultural reserve land at this point, McKay said.
“If anyone's looking at escaping the higher tax rate by going out to a farm facility, I'm not going to look kindly on that.
“We know the money that's in that crop.”