Pubdate: Wed, 19 Mar 2014
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Matthew Van Dongen


Hamilton Considers Marijuana-Growing Operations in Industrial Areas

Hamilton councillors want our old industrial buildings to go to pot.

The city is poised to limit medical marijuana growers to rural areas 
by labelling them agricultural operations - but councillors Tuesday 
asked city staff to explore zoning exceptions to allow the booming, 
federally licensed businesses in industrial areas.

Several large-scale pot producers want to set up shop in Hamilton now 
that the federal government requires medical marijuana users, as of 
April 1, to buy cannabis exclusively from security-conscious, indoor 
commercial operations licensed by Health Canada.

Councillor Chad Collins said he initially supported a rural-only 
approach, but now is interested in Hamilton "taking competitive 
advantage" of an anticipated $1.3-billion mega-industry that has the 
blessing of federal regulators.

"In a sense, it's like turning our brownfields into greenfields," he 
said to laughter at the planning committee.

Other councillors, including Brenda Johnson, Jason Farr and the 
absent Lloyd Ferguson have also expressed support for an industrial 
option for the operations.

Councillor Sam Merulla, on the other hand, said he supported the move 
to keep the facilities in rural areas - even if it means two 
proposals for his ward will go up in smoke.

"I think it's an agricultural use; we're talking about growing 
plants," said Merulla, who has been notified of proposed facilities 
in the industrial east end and on Main Street East several blocks 
from Gage Park.

"Even in terms of security, I think it makes sense to be in a more 
isolated area."

Not all agencies and municipalities agree on the agricultural 
designation. The Niagara Escarpment Commission has decided the 
facilities are industrial, effectively banning them from the escarpment.

Ottawa has settled on a default agricultural definition but has made 
special provision for growers in some industrial areas. In the Ottawa 
Valley town of Smith Falls, a licensed grower is breathing new life 
into a massive abandoned chocolate factory.

Bill Warriner told The Spectator in February he wanted to turn a 
5,000-square-foot Stapleton Avenue industrial building into a secure 
pot growing-and-drying facility. Federal rules don't allow retail 
sales from the production site.

The Spectator couldn't reach Warriner Tuesday, but he previously said 
he hoped the broad-based industrial zoning for the area would satisfy 
the city. As of February, he hadn't been licensed by Health Canada.

Two other companies seeking rural digs for their facilities have 
contacted The Spectator - but neither would speak about their plans 
on the record, citing security concerns.

So far, no federally licensed facility has approval to grow in 
Hamilton, according to city staff.

But Councillor Brad Clark said he has heard the government had 
approved licences for applicants without local zoning approval.

"What's frustrating is that we can't say 'no,'" he said.

Building services director Ed VanderWindt said the federal government 
has specified would-be growers must comply with local bylaws.

Staff will come back to council with an updated report laying out 
options to allow an agricultural use within urban industrial areas.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom