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Local township passes cannabis bylaw to curb illegal grow ops


November 25, 2020
By Michael Riley, The Bancroft Times (Local Journalism Initiative)

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The Township of Carlow Mayo, about two hours west of Ottawa, had a public meeting on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. so residents could comment on the passing of the township’s draft cannabis bylaw, and the council could answer their questions about the bylaw.

Many municipalities have faced illegal cannabis operations doing business within their borders, including Carlow Mayo, one of them being the illegal cannabis operation that was taken down by the OPP on Hartsmere Road in McArthurs Mills on Sept. 15.

Mayor Bonnie Adams stressed that with this amended bylaw, it will impose restrictions on where cannabis operations can be permitted within their township, and hopefully curb these illegal cannabis production facilities from starting up in the first place. After taking and answering residents’ questions on the issue, council voted unanimously to adopt this amended bylaw.

Adams thanked everyone for coming and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for individuals to comment on the draft bylaw and pose any questions they may have before it was passed by council. The bylaw in question is bylaw #26-2020, which is a bylaw to amend the comprehensive zoning bylaw #33-2004, in accordance with Section 34 of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990.

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“Without the amendments we are proposing, we would have no authority on where and how cannabis operations could be established that are licensed or registered by Health Canada. Please be assured that council does not take this lightly. It’s a major problem for us and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that our municipality is protected from any illegal operations that could occur within our municipality,” she says.

Adams mentioned that back on Aug. 14, she had attended a Hastings County Zoom meeting with Councillor Dan Hughey and deputy clerk and treasurer Jenny Snider to discuss this problem. She said their concerns were addressed to MP Derek Sloan, MPP Daryl Kramp, inspector detachment cmdr. Scott Semple from the OPP, insp. Jim Walker from the OPP Organized Crime and Enforcement Bureau, Warden Rick Phillips with Hastings County and Warden Marg Isbester from Lennox Addington.

As a result of the meeting, letters were sent to Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu to ensure that all three levels of government are working in cooperation toward the issue of addressing illegal cannabis operations.

Adams explains that in the letters the municipalities suggested some recommendations including; that Health Canada should share information about cannabis certifications with municipalities so they can ensure that certificate holders are compliant with the township’s zoning bylaw, that police forces have the necessary resources to monitor and take action against cannabis operations that conduct their business illegally, that the province provide means to amend legislation to establish a new provincial offence that creates an offence when unlicensed cannabis operations breaking planning and environmental regulations and when they ignore building codes, and that a suggested $100,000 fine be in place to act as a deterrent. If all else fails, the township would like to be able to collect any outstanding fines through municipal property taxes.

While there has been no word from Minister Hajdu yet, Adams had heard that Minister Clark had shared these recommendations with Attorney General Doug Downey, solicitor General Sylvia Jones, the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and the Association of Municipalities of Eastern Ontario Monica Turner.

“As you can see, we are not sitting doing nothing with regards to this awful thing that has come into our community,” she says.

This amended bylaw only applies to illegal cannabis operations, not those more limited operations for personal and medical use. Industrial hemp production, which is a larger scale growing endeavour, is also not the target of this bylaw. Industrial hemp is a food and fibre non-drug variety of cannabis with a low THC content of less than 0.3 per cent. In 2014, over 100,000 acres of industrial hemp were grown in Canada. If anyone has any concerns that a larger scale operation is not growing industrial hemp, and is instead growing illegal drug cannabis, they should contact the OPP to investigate.

Questions from residents had been submitted in advance of the meeting, so that the council could look into them and provide the most detailed answers possible during the meeting.

Residents posed questions to council wondering whether the township knows whether Health Canada issues a licence to a particular property for a cannabis operation, and also whether the township can put a limit on the number of cannabis operations within the township.

On behalf of council, Adams answered that Health Canada does not forward this information to the township, and that the township is uninformed about licence approval so they have no idea how many cannabis operations there are so cannot put a limit on them so far.

Residents also asked council what regulations are being put in place to prevent cannabis operations from being too close to residential properties, and how the safety of the community is being ensured.

Adams replied that with the new bylaw, cannabis operations must be in a permitted zone and must meet the required setbacks from sensitive land use, and adhere to other requirements set out in the bylaw. With regard to safety, Adams urged residents that if they have concerns about illegal and criminal activity, to contact the OPP and they will investigate.

Questions also arose about how the township would regulate the smell from cannabis operations and the environmental impacts of cannabis operations with respect to water and waste.

Adams replied that operations licensed and registered with Health Canada are permitted indoors only and that they must have an air treatment control system for the building or structure. With regard to water supply, cannabis operation owners are required to provide confirmation that there is adequate water supply for daily usage and for fire suppression. Private septic systems or other onsite disposal systems will be necessary to confirm that discharge from the facility can be handled appropriately. If an offsite handling is needed, the owner will provide documentation of agreements with approved waste handlers to the township’s satisfaction.

Residents also asked if pre-existing cannabis operations would be taken care of by this new bylaw, and what these cannabis operations might do to local property values.

Adams said that the new bylaw would not apply to pre-existing cannabis operations but that the township was working on a new bylaw that would pertain to the nuisance that may come with a cannabis operation, like the odour for example.

With regard to property values, Adams said that they can’t forecast real estate values or MPAC assessments and that there are many factors that determine these values.

Also asked by residents was how the township would enforce the amendments if licencing information is not given to the township.

Adams answered that the amendment to the bylaw would allow the township’s chief building official and bylaw enforcement officer to have more ability to help them enforce the Ontario building code and the township’s zoning bylaw, and that all illegal operations will need to be reported and handled by the OPP.

Having no more submitted questions and none from the gallery, Adams thanked everyone present for coming out, for posing their questions and for their comments.

“We’re trying to bring this situation to light and to let you know what we’re trying to do to prohibit it and address the concerns,” she says.

Adams then brought forth a motion by Hughey and seconded by Councillor Mike Cannon to adopt bylaw #26-2020. Council passed it unanimously and the public meeting was adjourned.