Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2014
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Matthew Van Dongen


City unsure of how to handle inquiries

Large-scale medical pot producers are sniffing around rural and
industrial Hamilton for a place to grow.

As of April 1, new federal regulations will force medical marijuana
users to buy cannabis exclusively from security-conscious, indoor
commercial operations licensed by Health Canada. In the past, licensed
pot users could grow their own plants or buy from cottage industry
producers, a tough-to-monitor regime unpopular with police.

Hamilton is now racing to figure out how to deal with the changes as
would-be mega pot producers kick the tires on sites in Flamborough and
east Hamilton.

Bill Warriner wants to turn a 5,000-square-foot building on Stapleton
Avenue, near Burlington Street East and Kenilworth Avenue North, into
a secure pot-growing and drying facility.

"We've got the property we want lined up, but there are a lot of hoops
to jump through to get a (federal) licence. We're not there yet," said
Warriner, president of Alchemy Medical Marijuana Inc. So far, Health
Canada says it has issued licences to only eight operators across
Canada out of more than 400 applicants.

Ward Councillor Sam Merulla said he received a "letter of intent" from
the company and invited officials to pitch the plan in a public meeting.

"I never heard back," he said. "I'm open to working with (companies)
on this sort of thing, but it has to be done in an open and
transparent way."

Warriner said there's no point in talking further with the city until
he learns about the status of his Health Canada application. He hasn't
added any information other than a logo to the website,

Flamborough Councillor Judy Partridge said she recently received a
letter of interest about a property in her ward, but won't identify
the proponent or address unless a formal application is made to the
city. Several councillors privately told The Spectator a west
Flamborough site is also being eyeballed.

"It's definitely a topic we need to be having a discussion about,"
said Partridge, who is meeting with staff in the coming days over the

Planning staff will deliver an information report about the medical
pot regulatory changes in the coming weeks, said building services
director Ed VanderWindt.

At the moment, it isn't clear whether a large-scale indoor grow
operation would be classified as agricultural, commercial or
pharmaceutical manufacturing. Those decisions affect where a legal
grow operation could set up shop in the city.

The Niagara Escarpment Commission has ruled the facilities aren't
agricultural or institutional operations, meaning they aren't
permitted in the agency's regulated territory.

But in Hamilton, "we haven't made that decision yet," said
VanderWindt, noting different municipalities are treating the
facilities differently.

In the small Ottawa valley town of Smiths Falls, a mega-pot producer
is being lauded for taking over part of a massive abandoned chocolate
factory. Some B.C. communities, by contrast, have considered using
zoning bylaws to effectively ban the legal grow operations.

Hamilton also lacks an economic development policy on medical pot
facilities, which are expected to form part of a $1.3-billion legal
pot supply industry. Some of that cash could end up in municipal
coffers as taxes, or invested in vacant buildings.

Hamilton's economic development team isn't "actively pursuing" such
facilities, said manager of business development Norm Schleehahn. He
added he couldn't comment further until after planning staff report to

The new regulations are meant to help crack down on abuse of the old
medical marijuana program.

The RCMP and Hamilton police charged 12 people last year for allegedly
using the medical marijuana program as a front for an elaborate drug
trafficking organization.

Warriner said security appears to be one of the biggest concerns cited
by Health Canada in evaluating applications. Alchemy has promised an
extensive camera surveillance system and pass-card access to the
concrete and steel building it is eyeing in the east city.
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