'Huge win': Strathcona County sets new rules for cannabis production facilities

After a public hearing that went into the early hours of Wednesday, councillors in Strathcona County have decided cannabis operations will now be considered "discretionary" uses for agricultural and industrial land.

Council met for almost seven hours Tuesday night before voting to approve amendment to land use bylaw

Canadian Rockies Agricultural is proposing to develop a cannabis operation with crops, herb gardens and livestock on this property near Josephburg, Alta. in Strathcona County. (Canadian Rockies Agricultural)

After a public hearing that went into the early hours of Wednesday, councillors in Strathcona County have decided cannabis operations will now be considered "discretionary" uses for agricultural and industrial land.

The seven-hour hearing wrapped up around 1:45 a.m. Wednesday with a 6-3 vote in favour of an amendment to the county's land use bylaw.

"With cannabis production facilities listed as a discretionary use, our development authority has the ability to review for compatibility within a location," Mayor Rod Frank said.

More than 200 people attended the public hearing with most of them staying right until the end of what was "an excellent exercise in democracy," he said. 

Cannabis production is an emerging industry and people have questions around what it will involve, said Frank.

There are concerns around "smell, and noise and traffic" that can be addressed by making the use discretionary, he said.

Any applications will have to go through the county's planning department, which will also consider the concerns of neighbours, and whether the proposal is the best use of the land, he said.

County council has previously rejected three proposals for cannabis operations, added Frank.

Canadian Rockies Agricultural CEO Aaron Barr at the company's research and grow facility in Sherwood Park. (Canadian Rockies Agricultural)

Canadian Rockies Agricultural submitted a proposal to the county in mid-December for a cannabis operation on a former elk and ostrich farm located just south of Josephburg, about 10 kilometres north of Highway 16.

That application has been on hold, pending the outcome of Tuesday's hearing, said Aaron Barr, CEO, Canadian Rockies Agricultural.

'Precedent setting'

"This was very precedent setting," Barr said Wednesday of council's decision. "This was a huge win for us."

While it doesn't mean the company's current proposal is a "done deal," it does show that it's a good fit for the area where the company wants to locate, he said.

The proposal will now go back to the planning department with a decision expected "in the next week or so," Barr said.

He's particularly pleased the amendment includes cannabis operations on agricultural land as well as in industrial areas.

"We want to produce craft, organic cannabis and we can't do that in an industrial park," he said.

The company would have had to move its proposal to another county if that change had not be made, Barr said.

"We have outdoor crops, vegetable gardens and herb gardens, composting and recycling and then livestock raising too," he said.

The plan is to grow flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums as "companion plants" with the cannabis, and be wholly organic, said Barr.