Green Party MP calls for moratorium on outdoor cannabis licenses

Paul Manly, a Green Party MP from the BC riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith, presented a petition in the House of Commons on March 9 calling on a one year moratorium for all new outdoor cannabis cultivation licenses, as well as asking the federal government to change their regulations to allow more local community input in the federal licensing process.

While Health Canada’s federal regulations for licensing cannabis cultivation and processing requires notification of local authorities, nothing about the federal licensing process necessarily requires approval from local or provincial jurisdictions, although municipalities do have the ability to establish bylaws surrounding business activities, including cannabis businesses.

The only exception to this is that under British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules, cannabis is considered an agricultural product and can be grown on ALR land without local input as long as they are following specific ALR rules to preserve farmland.

Some municipalities in Canada, including some in BC, have chosen to establish their own bylaws banning cannabis businesses of all kinds, or limiting their scope and location, on those farms outside ALR land. Some have also fought to ban them on ALR land, as well.

For his part, Manly says he’s a supporter of legalization, and that he tabled the petition to represent the will of his constituents. Although official Green Party policy is to encourage outdoor production, the MP says members of his riding have concerns about a specific location, and a feeling that they have had no say in the process, especially because the application in question is on ALR land with fencing that “looks like a prison”.

“I’m elected to be the voice of my constituents in the House of Commons,” says Manly. “When I present petitions I don’t present my opinion on them, I just present them as the petitioners are asking them to be presented in the House of Commons.”

“The issue here is just the consultation process,” he continues. “People feel in this community, in the Cedar area, that this has been hoisted on them. I think having consultation from individual companies is a good idea to get the neighbours on board, to hear their concerns.”

“In terms of these kinds of licenses, it’s location, location, location. Talking to your neighbours is important in trying to alleviate their concerns. You can’t just drop into a community and kind of have your way and not expect to have some resistance.”

At a community meeting in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding last fall, residents of Cedar, BC expressed concern with a new proposed outdoor cannabis operation. The location in question is on Agricultural Land Reserve land.

Similarly, this past January Regional Directors of Nanaimo passed a motion asking the province of BC to put a moratorium on outdoor cannabis farms, asking for standards similar to those that are imposed on indoor cannabis licenses.

Not all supported the motion, however, pointing out the jurisdiction has little right to ban these types of activities. Nanaimo mayor Leonard Krog said he opposed both motions.

“I think we need to make a statement about the rights of farmers in this province to use their land to ensure that agricultural land remains viable and that farming remains viable,” Krog told those at the January meeting.

“In terms of these kinds of licenses, it’s location, location, location. Talking to your neighbours is important in trying to alleviate their concerns. You can’t just drop into a community and kind of have your way and not expect to have some resistance.” -MP Paul Manly

Elected in a by-election in May 2019 following NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson stepping down to serve as a provincial MLA, Manly is only the second elected Green Party MP in Canada. The first was Elizabeth May in 2011.

In contrast to Manly’s petition, last September then-Green Party leader Elizabeth May called on the federal government to allow outdoor cannabis production, despite the fact it was already allowed under regulations passed on Oct 17, 2018.

Concerns with outdoor cultivation have been echoed by others in the past, expressing concerns with cross pollination with nearby hemp farms and access to young people. Former Canopy CEO Bruce Linton even called on the Senate in 2018 to ban outdoor commercial cannabis cultivation, citing quality assurance concerns, along with the risk of diversion, perhaps with criminals stealing plants using drones.

There are currently over 30 outdoor cannabis cultivation licenses in Canada, according to a recent MJBiz report. The most recent data for hemp licences in Canada shows over 1,200 in 2018, for a total of over 31,000 hectares.

Manly’s riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith is home to at least one licensed producer, Tilray, an indoor producer in Nanaimo. The riding also encompasses part of the broader the cowichan region of Vancouver Island, historically home to numerous cannabis growers.

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