Niagara-on-the-Lake was one of the first municipalities in the region to grapple with zoning bylaws controlling commercial medical marijuana facilities, although somewhat hampered by federal legislation that legalized such operations. It is now attempting to change its zoning bylaws to more restrictive regulations.
In the summer of 2014, with several inquiries about legal operations and issues with greenhouses growing and selling marijuana illegally, the Town enacted legislation regarding what could be controlled at the municipal level, such as the distance required from residential neighbourhoods, churches, schools, playgrounds and other “sensitive” areas where an operation would impact residents.
Last fall, facing the possibility of an increase in such production facilities with legalized recreational marijuana on the horizon, Coun. Betty Disero asked council to have another look at issues such as setbacks, to see if the controls in place are sufficient.
She suggested asking the province about regulations relating to land use and specialty crops such as marijuana, and council decided to ask the Town's agricultural committee to take on the project, including holding a symposium to gather information and opinions.
“The agricultural committee has always been the leaders in wanting greater restrictions to the Cannabis setbacks,” said Disero.
But council didn't act on the agricultural committee recommendations, she said, so she was grateful to see a recent notice from the town announcing an open house, which was held last week, and a public meeting Monday to look at amending the bylaws in place since 2014.
Residents who attended the open house agree with increased setbacks, but would like to see greater distances than those in the proposed draft bylaw, said Disero.
If it wasn’t for the agricultural committee, “it is doubtful that council would be doing the review at this time,” she said.
“This is the least we can do. A lot of people are concerned about this. It's going to impact their lives,” said Disero.
“We need to review things like setbacks. I expect there could be more demand and we need to be ready.”
Disero says she has had a few inquiries from people looking for information about bylaws controlling such facilities in NOTL, and refers them to the planning department. She expects other councillors are doing the same.
One location that has caused concern from neighbours is a greenhouse facility on Larkin Road, with homes near by. Residents have seen equipment going into the greenhouses recently that makes them fear it could be for marijuana production.
In March, 2017, Niagara Regional Police made some arrests at that location and seized some marijuana plants.
Disero has been told by Town staff these greenhouses do not meet required setbacks for growing marijuana, and staff have been there several times to check, she said. There are no marijuana plants there now, and if there were, “it would be an illegal operation.” Town staff say there is no application in process for a Larkin Road facility.
The proposed bylaws to be discussed at the open house and public meeting would affect all areas of Niagara-onthe-Lake, with the purpose of introducing increased setback requirements between cannabis production facilities and sensitive land uses. The proposed bylaws, which address recreational and medical marijuana facilities on urban and rural properties – including growing crops outdoors – are also intended to provide for clearer interpretation of provisions in regard to cannabis production and processing.
The draft bylaws to be discussed say no land, building or structure used to produce or process marijuana, if equipped with air treatment control may be closer than 70 meters to residential, institutional or open space land, or closer than 150 metres to sensitive land uses.
The proposed bylaws define air treatment control as “Industrial grade multi-stage carbon filtration system, or similar technology, to reduce and/or treat the emission of pollen, dust and odours expelled from a facility and sized accordingly in comparison to the facility it serves as designed by a qualified person.”
Without air treatment control the setback to a sensitive land uses must be 300 metres or more, according to the draft bylaw – and would apply to outdoor crops.
The urban bylaw addresses similar setbacks in industrial zones.
Residents who attended an open house last week suggested the setbacks be increased – from 70 metres to 150, from 150 metres to 300 and from 300 metres to 500, with planning director Craig Larmour saying he'd look into it.
The proposed bylaws also say all development for the growing of marijuana would be subject to site plan control by the Town.
The public meeting is at the council chamber Monday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m.