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City researches changing medical marijuana laws

Switch to commercial facilities coming April 1

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Tuesday, Feb 18, 2014 04:15 pm

POT-ENTIAL – The City of St. Albert is reviewing its bylaws in case it ever gets an application for medical marijuana production.
POT-ENTIAL – The City of St. Albert is reviewing its bylaws in case it ever gets an application for medical marijuana production.
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Bylaws for medical marijuana production facilities?

St. Albert: not currently covered by bylaw

Sturgeon County: not currently covered by bylaw

The botanical arts city could get a little greener if a licensed medical marijuana growing facility opts to set up shop in St. Albert.

Here's one the marketing types overlooked when they came up with St. Albert's Botanical Arts City theme: Canada's Medical Marijuana Capital. Just kidding, of course, but that doesn't mean local government isn't preparing for the day someone comes looking to set up shop in this city. And local RCMP concur that putting a plan in place now is the prudent approach.

While mayor Nolan Crouse said he isn’t aware of any written applications for such a facility, at recent council meetings he has been flagging staff to decide if bylaw changes are needed after seeing the issue raised in other municipalities across Canada.

His questions come as the medical marijuana production laws are about to shift. As of April 1, no one authorized to possess pot for medical reasons will be able to get a licence to grow their own supply at home or purchase their supply through Health Canada.

Now licensed commercial growers will take over the business, shipping their goods directly to their customers.

In preparation, some Canadian municipalities have initiated bylaws to address the potential for those growers to apply to do business in their boundaries.

David Hales, St. Albert’s general manager of planning and engineering, said right now his staff doesn’t see any gaps in the city’s land use bylaw that need filling.

“We’ve put some thought into it. We would treat them like any other federally regulated pharmaceutical operation,” Hales said. “We’re researching it and we’re watching it right now. If an application of that nature was to come in, we would view it under the terms of the existing land use bylaw.”

Hales points out that under the new requirements, the commercial facilities are a far cry from “basement operations.”

The producer facilities are regulated by Health Canada and have to follow their guidelines. Rules include not operating a storefront and notifying local government, fire departments and police of their intention to apply for a licence.

“The proposed site must be located indoors and must not be a dwelling-place,” says Health Canada’s guidance document to become a licensed producer.

Health Canada has security requirements as well. The perimeter of a site must be visually monitored at all times by a recording device, there must be an “intrusion detection system” and that system needs to be monitored at all times.

Areas in a site where cannabis is present also need visual monitoring and more. Storage is regulated via Health Canada’s storage restrictions for controlled substances.

“They’ve got some fairly stringent requirements,” Hales said.

After raising the concern, Crouse is not currently planning on bringing any related motions forward unless recommended by city staff.

“What I’m hearing right now is we’re likely fine, but our staff are going to check one more time just to make sure,” the mayor said.

He said checking on the land use bylaws is part of prepping for societal changes that see new kinds of businesses start up. He said the city needs to be ready for those kinds of changes by making sure to be prepared to put new types of businesses in places that make sense.

Crouse did note the RCMP have raised concerns about security and potential theft encouraging the city to put some thought into the issue.

Sgt. Carolyn Cameron from St. Albert’s RCMP detachment said police concerns are aimed at safety and oversight.

An authorized producer could become a target for theft, she said, adding that even legal home operations have been known to be targeted.

Organized crime might target the facility or the vehicles leaving with shipments. And who will make sure the facility itself doesn’t deal legally out the front and illegally out the back? Without municipal oversight, no one will know if the producer is complying with the laws, she added.

“The RCMP would suggest if the City of St. Albert is going to consider this, we have a bylaw that addresses those concerns and regulates how that kind of business is conducted in our area just to ensure the safety of St. Albert residents and to ensure we don’t open our area to more criminal activity,” Cameron said.

But if the City of St. Albert just issued a blanket “no” and a production facility opened up shop just across the Anthony Henday, illicit elements targeting such facilities could seep over St. Albert’s borders. So it might be better to have it, but have a bylaw in place to ensure oversight on a local level, she pointed out.

“If we’re going to have this, let’s have the right security measures,” Cameron said. “If followed properly, this could be a good venture for St. Albert.”

In an email, Cameron said it would be prudent for mayor and council to have a conversation with the RCMP to anticipate issues so procedures could be developed ahead of any problems.

“As police, we want to be proactive and not wait for there to be a problem,” she said.

Health Canada said in an email that all licensed producers of medical marijuana will be “subject to ongoing inspection on a broad range of factors” by Health Canada.

Those factors include security measures, review of loss and theft reports, inventory review, good production practices and quality assurance.

A pre-licence inspection is conducted after initial screening of production licence applicants.

Local greenhouse expert and owner Jim Hole hasn’t put an application in, but he has been doing research on the topic.

“Security obviously is a very big part of it,” he said. “My understanding is you have to have very secure facilities, and then you have the quality parameters.”

Medical marijuana is treated almost the same as any other pharmaceutical product, he said, and has to be suitable for the end-user. Current trends include trying to mitigate the hallucinogenic elements, Hole said.

“A lot of people aren’t looking (to get high). They’re looking for the components of marijuana that will alleviate their pain and their other problems but not yet get them to a point where they are not lucid,” he said.

While the marijuana plant itself is hardy, he said, to meet the standards required, knowledgeable people will have to be on hand to grow the plants.

The crop could be grown in greenhouses or indoors via a grow light. The Health Canada regulations prohibit it from being grown outdoors.

“I think the thing is with the crop, once you get beyond the snickering about the crop there’s a lot of people who benefit tremendously from the use of it,” Hole said.

Health Canada statistics say over 37,000 people are authorized to possess medical marijuana in Canada.

For some, the cost might be covered under their health plans.

“It’s almost new territory for us up here north of the 49th,” said Dan Roy, owner and a benefits consultant at Roy Financial Services Inc.

While he hasn’t found any insured benefits that will cover pot for medical reasons, under more flexible plans like health spending accounts, it’s possible coverage might happen.

“Because medical marijuana is allowed, it is viewed as necessary and required for therapy, then most health spending accounts could cover it,” Roy said, but added the particulars depend on the plan and the client.

Under the new rules, applications to be authorized to possess medical marijuana will no longer be handled by Health Canada. Instead, a medical document will have to be obtained from a health care practitioner and then registration with a licensed producer can occur, says Health Canada’s website.


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