Treat marijuana like any other farm crop, group tells city

It's a philosophical question that's circulated through Hamilton city hall for months: when it comes to city rules, should growing marijuana be considered the same as growing cucumbers?

'A greenhouse is a greenhouse whether you're growing cannabis or flowers or tomatoes'

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson says huge bunker-style cannabis facilities will spring up across the greenbelt. Ferguson says they'll eat up precious farmland that should be used to grow food. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

It's a philosophical question that's circulated through Hamilton city hall for months: when it comes to city rules, should growing marijuana be considered the same as growing cucumbers?

Now, a group of local farmers says yes.

The city's agriculture and rural affairs advisory committee — comprised of farmers, residents and politicians — voted in late February to pull a restriction preventing cannabis from being treated like any other farm crop.

It wants the city to change the rules so marijuana growers won't have to keep their buildings to 2,000 square metres. City councillors will discuss it Tuesday.

Those opposed to the change, like Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, say huge bunker-style cannabis facilities will spring up across the greenbelt. Ferguson says they'll eat up precious farmland that should be used to grow food.

"Whether you're growing cucumbers of growing marijuana, are they the same?" he asked last year. "I don't believe the greenbelt was intended to grow marijuana."

Eden dispensary, in Hamilton, sells cannabis in various forms to customers with medicinal consumption licenses. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

But some farmers on the advisory committee felt otherwise. Mel Switzer of Binbrook, a Hamilton Wentworth Federation of Agriculture rep, voted against Ferguson in a 9-4 vote on Feb. 26.

"Marijuana is classified as an agriculture product," Switzer said. "The government is saying that, and so is the federation of agriculture."

Most medical marijuana growing facilities, he said, are moving toward a greenhouse model.

"A greenhouse is a greenhouse," he said, "whether you're growing cannabis or flowers or tomatoes."

Switzer says he visited a facility, and it didn't smell like pot. "It smelled like they were growing tomatoes in there."

City council's planning committee will likely refer the group's report to city staff for more information. But Ferguson expects heated discussion.

The vote was 9-4 in favour of letting cannabis producers have buildings larger than 2,000 square metres. (CBC)

"The agriculture community seems to be divided," he said.

"Half want (growing facilities) because it increases the value of their properties. The others don't want it because they feel the land should be used for growing food."

"I'm worried our prime agricultural land will get covered up by massive greenhouses and massive buildings."

Cannabis production, and how to set rules around it, has been an ongoing debate for years. This summer, Ottawa will legalize pot, so it's even more pressing now.

Some councillors want medicinal marijuana corporations to grow on old industrial land. Two companies, Beleave and Green Organic Dutchman, say they can't do that because the air is too polluted in those areas.

"We are growing a very sophisticated plant for medicine here," said Ian Wilms, vice chair of Ancaster's Green Organic Dutchman, in October.

Not everyone bought it. Marijuana is grown indoors, said Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, and corporations grow under controlled conditions.

Both companies presented to the advisory group on Feb. 26.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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