It may be one of the most controversial zoning bylaw hearings ever - city hall is looking at restricting licensed medical marijuana grow operations to industrial zoned areas.
City officials are taking the first tentative steps toward a sensible answer to changes expected in federal regulations. They have no choice but to be tentative because no one knows what the changes will be and whether municipalities will have any say in how they are carried out or enforced.
As it stands, cities like Kamloops are too often left holding the bag when things go wrong. Licensed grow ops don't always follow the restrictions placed on them, so police resources (paid for by city taxpayers) are used to enforce them. If a grow op results in mould problems, city inspectors have to deal with that issue.
But even law-abiding, health-conscious growers can present a danger to the neighbours by their very existence, becoming targets of criminals bent on stealing the product. Unless there is a complaint, the City can do little about this, because the federal government does not reveal if or where the operations exist.
The federal government has not been forthcoming about the upcoming changes, either. But
municipalities expect there will be a move to take grow ops out of residential areas, and to concentrate them into larger operations.
A bylaw restricting grow ops to industrial areas makes sense. The City would actually know where they are and be able to monitor their activity. Of course, it would be helpful if the federal government backed up this restriction by spelling it out in licensing agreements.
Placing licensed grow ops in industrial areas would also improve security by taking them out of neighbourhoods. Even the best-run grow ops can be a magnet for criminals. Security measures would be easier to implement in industrial areas and police might more easily respond to problems.
As sensible as this zoning bylaw may be, many questions will need to be answered before it can properly be implemented.
For example, medical marijuana users - many of whom are on disability or fixed incomes - have legitimate concerns about whether a move to larger operations in industrial areas would increase the cost of their medication. And producers worry they won't be able to afford the rent.
Also, the City will look to the federal government to compensate the monitoring costs of a situation it is creating.
For these reasons, and more, a public hearing is a good idea. We need to air out these concerns.
Let's just hope people don't misuse it as an opportunity to grandstand on a controversial topic.
The City needs to move forward in a way that benefits all residents. The proposed zoning changes are a good first step in that direction.
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