B.C. municipalities want moratorium on approving ALR land for cannabis production

The UBCM is asking for a comprehensive review on using agricultural land for the production of non-medical cannabis.

"I'm afraid we'll never see another blueberry," said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.

Currently, only medical marijuana is allowed to be grown on B.C.'s Agricultural Land Reserve. (Aphria/Canadian Press)

Of the more than 160 applications pending to grow non-medicinal cannabis on B.C.'s agricultural land, Kerry Jang hopes none gets approved for some time. 

"You've got to start somewhere. Sometimes you've got to have a gambit," said Jang, a Vancouver councillor and executive with the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).

Jang says the UBCM has asked the province for a moratorium on further use of the Agricultural Land Reserve to grow non-medicinal cannabis until a comprehensive review and consultation is done with local government.

"The number one problem with commercial cannabis production is it's grown in greenhouses on concrete beds. And when you lay a concrete pad over good soil, you lose that soil forever," said Jang. 

"The province has heard us … they listened very intently, and we wait to see what they do next."

Metro Vancouver mayors discuss issues surrounding the impeding legalization of non-medicinal cannabis on July 6, 2018. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

'I'm afraid we'll never see another blueberry'

Jang made his announcement about the UBCM request at a Metro Vancouver meeting, where many regional politicians also voiced their concerns about the potential use of agricultural land for cannabis. 

"I'm afraid we'll never see another blueberry," said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. "It's all going to be greenhouses for cannabis."

"I'm very, very concerned about our food supply in this country, and I'm not sure really everyone's aware that we import a lot of food from the USA," said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson. "Shall we be relying on another country for the food to feed us?"

But Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer said medicinal cannabis is already classified as an agricultural product, along with non-edible products such as hops, wineries and Christmas trees — and she wonders if some of the concern isn't based in "reefer madness." 

"Some of this is just going to be about the normalizing of it," she said.  

"It's always the challenge when you have a national government making a law, it filters down to a really fine grain level for communities."

Looming legalization 

Jang said there is still much for the province and municipalities to determine before cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17, including the extra policing costs municipalities will be responsible for, along with the share of revenue they will receive. 

"For municipalities, our key is to make sure our costs are covered, whatever it may be … our goal is not to raise one cent of our property tax to pay for this," Jang said.  

"Right now, the cost and consumption models are all over the map … so we're taking a very principled approach."

Earlier this week, the provincial government launched an online portal for companies looking to apply for retail licences. A large-scale review of the Agricultural Land Commission, which oversees the ALR, is also underway.