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Alberni Valley residents ask ACRD to put brakes on cannabis industry

Public hearing over tighter restrictions in Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District gets emotional
Lisa Robinson of Kackaamin Family Development Centre said they were not consulted about cannabis facility across the road. MIKE YOUDS/Alberni Valley News


Special to the News

Rural residents are demanding ACRD directors “hit pause” as industrial-scale cannabis production moves into their areas.

A lengthy and at times stormy public hearing on increased regulation for new concrete-based cannabis growing facilities drew a full house to Cherry Creek Community Hall Tuesday night, Nov. 19.

While some residents spoke in favour of the bylaw amendments, many made it clear they don’t want industrial-scale marijuana cultivation nearby due to health and environmental concerns.

“There’s an absence of prudent science around cannabis production,” said Drew Robinson, one of many residents who spoke. “I think it’s appalling we’re even having this discussion. This town is turning a corner. There’s a new energy here. Are we going to lose it all for cannabis?”

ACRD Chairman John Jack cautioned, however, that local government does not have the ability to prohibit cannabis production, a legitimate agricultural use.

Sherry Lyons, an organic farmer, said she’s concerned the project would affect the aquifer while further compromising air quality during thermal inversions.

“I don’t want to be a guinea pig for an industrial operation in a rural setting,” said Amy Littlewood.

“They’re not saying No to cannabis,” said Joann Bessler, urging the board to put residents’ concerns at the forefront. “It’s hitting the pause button,” she added, echoing other comments.

Two companies have commercial production proposals in the regional district:

• Premium Cannabis Meds plans a 57,000 sq. ft. facility medical production and research facility across Beaver Creek Road from Kackaamin Family Development Centre. Proponent Moni Sadeghi has an application before the Agricultural Land Commission for use of fill material on which to build. The application was made under the old bylaw and won’t be subject to increased regulation.

• Wild Coast Canna wants to build a 377,000 sq. ft. cannabis “campus” between Airport Road and Great Central Road. The company shared its plans publicly last summer but has not applied for a building permit.

Bylaw P1399 was enacted last year, applying the same regulations to non-medical cannabis that were in place for medical cannabis. Bylaw amendments would increase setbacks from neighbouring residential and institutional zoning, schools and parks while prohibiting cannabis production on lots smaller than 2.43 hectares. They would also restrict concrete-based buildings for cannabis production.

Proponent Angie Harris-Fernandes of Wild Coast Canna spoke against the amended bylaw. She said the amendments would prohibit production of cannabis and make it impossible to proceed.

“It actually feels punitive to this industry,” she said. “This is a 180-degree shift from the existing bylaw.”

“We believe this step has been missing for the past two years,” said Carolyn Thibodeau, one of several Beaver Creek neighbours who have fought the Premium Cannabis proposal.

Reg Cocks conveyed outrage residents feel over the Beaver Creek Road proposal.

“That’s a First Nations family treatment centre,” he said, referring to Kackaamin. “How did it get to this point?”

Kackaamin’s executive director, Lisa Robinson, said they were not consulted on the development.

“This could be detrimental to our family centre,” Robinson said. “The smells, and people trying to recover from addiction — ridiculous. We’ve never had a chance to say that.”

“We want your investment, but you’ve got the wrong proposal,” said Russell Dyson of Coleman Meadows Farm, pointing to environmental concerns around the Wild Coast Canna proposal. “When I hear about Kackaamin, I almost weep,” he added.

Chamber of commerce CEO Bill Collette suggested an alternative appeal process in view of the potential scale of investment by the fledgling cannabis industry.

“This is too big of a decision for you to be making here tonight,” Collette said. “I think we need to hear from the wider public on that issue.”

Jack said the zoning amendments respond to feedback from the board, committees and the public. After the board received 35 letters on the amendments, the hearing was the last opportunity for public input. There will be a full debate by the board prior to a third reading of the bylaw.

Angie Harris-Fernandes of Wild Coast Canna speaks to the company’s plans for a plot of land on Great Central Lake Road. MIKE YOUDS/Alberni Valley News
Residents line up to speak to regional district directors at a stormy public hearing Tuesday on cannabis restrictions. MIKE YOUDS/Alberni Valley News

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