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Tiny, Ont. residents express concerns about cannabis grow ops


June 17, 2021
By Derek Howard, MidlandToday.ca (Local Journalism Initiative)

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Tiny Township residents voiced their concerns about cannabis within the municipality at a recent virtual town hall meeting – their first opportunity since an illegal grow op in the township was shut down by OPP months ago.

Comments were based around the illegal grow operation on Concession Road 6 East, where OPP seized over 9,000 cannabis plants during a drug bust on April 20.

“How can citizens and politicians of Tiny Township join together to stop legal grow-ops from sprouting up in our area?” asked Joanne Ritchie.

She continued by laying out the timeline of events for the “size of a Wal-Mart” operation, remarking upon its 2020 construction permit allowance, as well as the installation of enough hydro “to supply seven large homes.”

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“Alarm bells should have been going off somewhere,” stated Ritchie, who demanded that council restrict all grow-ops until a comprehensive zoning bylaw is in place.

Councillor Tony Mintoff raised a question to director of planning, Shawn Persaud.

“Does the municipality have the authority or jurisdiction to deny the operation of a function that’s legally licensed by the federal government to operate?”

Persaud replied that “a strict prohibition of cannabis growing” isn’t possible due to its designation as a legal agricultural use in Canada, while adding, “as far as zoning regulations, that’s something that we definitely have the authority to do.”

George Brzezicki was next to speak, asking about council’s commitment to regulating grow-ops in the township.

Saying that it was good for job creation “in the right places,” deputy mayor Steffen Walma saidhe supported legal grow ops.

“As far as what we can do,” said Walma, “I’m hoping that when we go through our comprehensive zoning bylaw that we can push that usage into rural or agricultural zones. Get it out of our hamlets and away from our shoreline so it doesn’t affect the communities.”

Coun. Cindy Hastings denounced illegal grow ops, but remained indifferent to the issue.

Mintoff suggested that once next month’s planning and development report is released, council could petition the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) with a unified voice comprised of the identified concerns which Tiny and other similar municipalities have experienced.

“I don’t support any activity in the municipality that would degrade the quality of life of our residents,” said Mintoff.

Resident Susan Cunningham cited other municipalities that have placed a one-year freeze on zoning regulations, and wondered why Tiny wouldn’t do the same.

Mintoff explained council’s reluctance on using an interim control bylaw which, if enacted, would preclude any other interim control bylaws to be used across the entire municipality for a three-year period.

That would prohibit council from using the trump card for any other issue which might arise during that span, which Persaud confirmed.

Also asked was whether on-site retail operations at grow-ops, known as farm gates, would be permitted. Persaud offered to look into the matter.

To conclude the discussion, CAO Robert Lamb gave his thoughts on the whole conversation by stressing the difficulties regarding illegal grow-ops across the country, as well as the effectiveness of zoning regulations when time is taken to be done properly.

“The underground market is as strong as ever,” Lamb began, “and it’s always going to be a challenge as we talk with our local police services board, our local inspectors.

“I don’t want anyone to have the unrealistic expectation that that problem is instantly going to go away. But when you can control it and you have your zoning in place, it certainly makes it easier for you to legally prosecute and get them shut down.”

Persaud reminded speakers that the New Tiny Zoning By-Law survey would be available for residents to fill out.

“We want to hear from folks in regards to a number of zoning issues, including the issue of regulations for cannabis cultivation,” said Persaud.

Feedback will be put into a report to be presented at an upcoming council meeting.