Medical marijuana - Hamilton's next big industry?

Hamilton is historically known for its steel. But in the future, some suggest, its niche could be medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana could be a boon for Hamilton if it chooses the right zoning and rules surrounding future facilities, some councillors say. The city's planning committee voted on Tuesday that such facilities are agriculture, not industry.

Hamilton is historically known for its steel. But in the future, some suggest, medical marijuana would be another good niche.

With new Health Canada regulations, a handful of medical marijuana growers have already applied to set up in Hamilton. The city has plenty of land zoned agricultural and industrial that would accommodate these facilities, said Coun. Chad Collins.

“We could be turning brownfields into green fields, and using green fields for their intended use,” he said at a planning committee meeting Tuesday.

In fact, if the city can decide by June how to zone and handle the facilities, “it could be the next big business in Hamilton,” said Coun. Jason Farr.

Municipalities across Ontario are grappling with how to deal with a potential influx of medical marijuana facilities.

Councillors voted Tuesday that they belong on agricultural land. But the city will also examine allowing them on industrial land, as some other cities have done.

Hamilton has plenty of both, said Collins, who represents Ward 5.

“We can advise investors looking at these facilities that we have two categories of land.”

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 thought they were closer to industry than farming. In February, Whitehead suggested encouraging medical marijuana growers to locate in vacant industrial buildings.

“You’re dealing with cultivation, packing, delivery to end user — no wholesale — and you’re saying that is an agricultural use,” he said.

“I don’t agree with it. When you look at it from beginning to end, it really is a process.”

But others said medical marijuana works similar to how flower growers operate.

“Look at cucumbers, for example,” said Joanne Hickey-Evans, manager of policy planning. “They grow them, quality control them, wrap them in plastic and send them out.”

Andy Burns used to work with a Hamilton medical marijuana centre. Now he aims to build his own growing facility in a rural area near Woodstock.

Such facilities are more like farms than industry, he said.

“You grow seedlings, cut the flower off, dry it, put it in a bag and sell it,” he told CBC Hamilton. “It’s not an industrial process. We look like mushroom farmers or ginseng farmers except for the nature of our product.”

The facilities don’t draw a lot of crime or require armed guards either, he said.

Staff will now identify appropriate locations for future facilities.

As of April 1, federal regulations will change regarding medical marijuana. Currently, patients can get it from individuals or one of four licensed producers in Canada. Under new regulations, patients can buy from licensed growers only.

The city has until June to finalize how it will zone marijuana-growing facilities, and where they can be located, Hickey-Evans said.


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