ALC stops vetting farmland cannabis applications

VANCOUVER — Some B.C. municipalities are scrambling after the B.C. government clarified that all cannabis production is a permitted farm use in the Agriculture Land Reserve.

The small wording change contained in an information bulletin released by the Agricultural Land Commission in early May means the ALC will no longer consider applications from companies hoping to grow cannabis, forcing local governments to assume that responsibility.

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The Union of B.C. Municipalities was caught “flat-footed” by the change, which took effect in February, but only recently came to light, president Arjun Singh said.

“The change happened, but no one caught it,” the Kamloops city councillor said.

“So there’s been a gap in terms of regulation. Local communities are scrambling to put bylaws in place, but that will take time.”

Singh fired off a letter to Forests Minister Doug Donaldson this week, asking for the rationale behind the change and the lack of consultation.

“As the ALC no longer has a vetting role in proposals for cannabis production on the ALR, it is implied that monitoring and enforcement of allowable land use will increasingly be a local-government responsibility,” he wrote before asking for clarification on how the province plans to support municipalities.

Singh later called the issue a “hiccup” in the UBCM’s discussions with the B.C. government about cannabis.

“I think they’re moving so quickly, and this is a new issue, and things got missed. I don’t think anyone meant for there to be a gap in the regulation,” he said.

Municipalities have been allowed to regulate cannabis production on ALR land since 2018, apart from a few exceptions. Marijuana production cannot be prohibited if it’s grown lawfully in an open field, in a structure that is soil-based or in an existing licensed operation, ALC CEO Kim Grout said.

Some municipalities have used their powers to limit the size of structures and prevent cannabis from being grown in industrial-style buildings with concrete floors. But some haven’t, preferring instead to let the ALC make that determination. Now, they’ll need to set their own standards, which could vary from place to place.

In a statement, the Ministry of Agriculture said the government has simply clarified the cannabis policy established in 2018, calling it “housekeeping changes to remove a redundancy.”

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