Pubdate: Fri, 22 Dec 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Page: A12


Marijuana could be a profitable addition to the crops grown in Central
Saanich, but a proposal for a huge operation raises a recurring
question about the way we use agricultural land. Why bury perfectly
good, scarce agricultural land under greenhouses, which could be built
just about anywhere?

Shawn Galbraith proposes to build a 150,000-square foot, $25-million
greenhouse on the Stanhope Dairy Farm, near the point where Lochside
Drive turns into the Lochside Trail. He plans a five-to seven-year
project with 21 greenhouses on 36 acres.

The first greenhouse would be twice the size of the Tilray facility in
Nanaimo, which is B.C.'s largest marijuana producer.

Galbraith has experience in the business. He built a Health
Canada-approved cannabis operation in a bunker-like building on
Lochside Drive, next to Michell's Farm.

The new plan is considerably more ambitious than that eight-person
facility. The first greenhouse would employ about 150 people, and that
could rise to 1,500 when everything is built out.

The jobs and potential tax revenue will certainly be attractive to
many Central Saanich residents and councillors.

"It's an important project. I can't emphasize how important it is for
the region," said Galbraith.

"We began to realize that three-acre site [next to Michell's Farm]
wasn't going to be able to produce the economy of scale to compete in
the industry."

The Stanhope land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, but cannabis
operations do not need approval from the Agricultural Land Commission.
The former B.C. Liberal government decided to allow federally licensed
medical cannabis operations to be built on protected agricultural farmland.

That's a decision the new government should revisit, because there are
better uses for agricultural land.

Galbraith counters: "Where else would you build greenhouses?"

"I think this is an agricultural business and in my mind this is an
acceptable use of the land," he said.

He argues that wine grapes and pumpkins are not food, but they are
grown on agricultural land.

Frank Leonard, chairman of the land commission and a former Saanich
mayor, said: "The argument in opposition is it's not a land-based
product. You're building a bunker and putting it on prime agricultural
land. But the previous government was persuaded that a crop is a crop
and [cannabis] is agriculture, which perhaps makes a farm more viable
and it should go ahead."

Good farmland is hard to come by in B.C., where less than five per
cent of the land is agricultural. But greenhouses don't have to be
built on rich soil; they can sit on ground that grows only rocks and

For regular greenhouses, the argument is made that they need to be on
agricultural land to qualify for agricultural tax rates. However, the
Liberal government decided that even though it designated cannabis as
a crop, medical pot operations are to be taxed at industrial
property-tax rates, rather than farm rates.

Galbraith points out that industrial land is much more expensive, and
finding 36 acres of empty industrial land in Central Saanich is difficult.

The NDP, which had the foresight to create the Agricultural Land
Reserve decades ago and is now in power again, should pay attention to
what has happened to its brainchild. Is there a compelling public
interest in building massive grow-ops on fertile soil? Can we use
regulation, tax incentives or other inducements to attract operators
to sites that are better suited to industrial facilities?

With marijuana legalization only months away, add this to the list of
unintended consequences. Don't build more greenhouses on our
irreplaceable farmland.
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MAP posted-by: Matt