Medical marijuana producers eye operating in Red Deer County

Red Deer County may be the next municipality to approve medical marijuana facilities.

Two prospective medical marijuana producers have their sights on Red Deer County.

A development permit has already been issued for one proposal, and the another application is in the approval process for undisclosed sites.

Given the recent controversy around a proposed medical marijuana application in a City of Red Deer industrial area, some may be surprised the county applications didn’t receive more attention.

County current planning manager Treena Miller said under agriculture zoning medical marijuana is treated as a permitted intensive agricultural operation, similar to any other type of greenhouse or growing facility. As a permitted use, the application does not go before the municipal planning commission or council for approval but is handled by planning staff.

Miller said the county believes the review and approval process for intensive agricultural operations will work for medical marijuana businesses.

“We treat them like an intensive agricultural operation. That’s what they’re doing.”

Getting county approval is a relatively simple process compared with meeting stringent Health Canada regulations for setting up a medical marijuana facility.

“They need to receive federal approvals and the federal approvals can take several years,” she said. “They will not operate until those federal approvals are in their hands.”

The number of rules, background checks, security plans and health regulations a medical marijuana producer must meet at the federal level go far beyond any county requirements.

Municipal planners around the province are wrestling with how to handle potential medical marijuana operations.

“I’ve had lots of discussion with people interested in doing this and I’ve also had lots of discussions with other municipalities.

“Lots of other municipalities have called us and said, “How are you guys dealing with this?’”

Given security and privacy concerns for potential producers, Red Deer County is not advertising the location of the proposed sites, even to neighbours.

“These businesses aren’t going to want to draw too much attention to them and we don’t want to compromise the security of their site. They do need high security as per the federal government regulations.”

However, a development permit is a public record and an inquiry for public information would not be denied.

As well, if a resident had concerns about the prospect of a medical marijuana operation next door, the county would work with them and the potential producer to address any questions, said Miller.

The process would be different in an area not zoned agriculture district. For instance, if an application had come in for a facility in a business service industrial district, where this type of use would be considered discretionary, the applications would have to go before the municipal planning commission.

There is only once licensed medical marijuana producer in Alberta, Aurora Cannabis, which has a $10-million facility near Cremona in Mountain View County. Across Canada, there are 35 licensed facilities, 28 of them in Ontario and B.C.

Medical marijuana has clearly stoked entrepreneurial imaginations. Up to August, Health Canada has received 1,561 applications for medical marijuana facilities, of which 253 have been rejected and 419 are being reviewed. Fifty-four applications were withdrawn and 801 returned as incomplete.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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