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County councillors think it's high time feds amend Cannabis Act

'The issue here is a lack of enforcement from Health Canada,' says Springwater mayor

Simcoe County municipalities are banding together to pressure the federal government to update the Cannabis Act before it all goes up in smoke.

As part of their committee of the whole meeting this week, county councillors approved sending a letter to the federal government, asking them to consider amending the rules around commercial and personal production of cannabis to address problems being felt in rural areas across the county such as noise, odours and enforcement.

During the meeting, Springwater Township Mayor Don Allen said according to correspondence he’s read, the federal government has said it doesn’t plan to revisit the Cannabis Act and regulations until they are required to by law, which isn’t for another two years.

“The only way to change the timetable will be to put pressure on the government with respect to this,” said Allen. “The issue here is a lack of enforcement from Health Canada.”

Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett agreed with Allen, and went further with his comments.

“I also think we need to have our MPs and MPPs on-board to voice our concerns, because they’re our conduit to the upper levels of government,” he said. “This is a problem that’s affecting all of us.”

According to the draft letter which would be sent to Mike McGuire with the controlled substances and cannabis branch of Health Canada, municipalities within Simcoe County have faced emerging challenges as a result of the legalization and regulation of cannabis.

“The production of cannabis under current regulations has resulted in the following issues: odour, location issues and medical cannabis licensing issues,” county officials wrote in their draft letter.

While the letter notes some member municipalities have implemented interim control bylaws to deal with some of the issues, many of these bylaws have been appealed by cannabis operators to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).

“In order to avoid an overwhelming number of appeals resulting in further costs associated with municipalities defending their bylaws – costs that are straining the system as it is – it would be prudent to review and improve the existing regulations,” notes the letter.

The letter notes two specific examples locally.

In the Holland Marsh in Bradford West Gwillimbury, the potential negative effect of odour on farmers and crops is an issue.

“The Holland Marsh is a provincially designated Specialty Crop Area and is protected for growing of food source. The other main issue occurring in the marsh is drainage and the proliferation of greenhouses that cannot be regulated because of the federal jurisdiction,” notes the letter.

To read our coverage of the issues surrounding cannabis farms in the Holland Marsh area, click here.

In Oro-Medonte Township, the letter notes noise has been a nuisance where electrical generators are being used in lieu of the local electrical utilities for a cannabis operation’s long-term power needs.

“It has been noted that connecting to the local electrical utility can, in some instances, be cost-prohibitive and therefore resulting in dependence on noisy generators,” notes the letter.

To read our coverage of the issue of noise at a cannabis farm in Oro-Medonte Township, click here.

County officials suggest three main improvements to federal legislation that would help the situation.

First, the county is recommending the federal government prepare guidelines which consider the noise and odour impacts of cannabis production facilities on sensitive land uses.

Second, the county is recommending additional enforcement tools be added as amendments to the existing Cannabis Act and cannabis regulations, and are asking that the legislation makes it clear that local policy and zoning bylaws at the municipal level have the authority to regulate where and how cannabis facilities can operate.

Lastly, the county is asking for improved communication between municipalities and Health Canada concerning licensing so they can more adequately address concerns from the public, and can be more involved earlier in the existing licensing process.

County council voted to recommend sending the letter to the federal government. The decision still needs to be ratified at the next meeting of council.