Land-use bylaw amended to accommodate medical marijuana production

Medical marijuana producers may have an opportunity to set up shop in Ponoka County

Medical marijuana producers may have an opportunity to set up shop in Ponoka County, however, that can only happen if the land is reclassified under direct control.

The county may be one of the first jurisdictions in Alberta that has specific mention of the mandate for medical marijuana operations under direct control. The county approved an amendment to its land-use bylaw, allowing applications for growing the drug so long as the land is zoned direct control.

This means applicants must first apply to rezone the land under direct control, which would require a public hearing, explained CAO Charlie Cutforth during a public hearing June 17. If that first application is approved, then applicants will need to apply to produce medical marijuana.

“Direct control means that, first of all, a proposed operation has to be applied to council for rezoning approval to direct control, and if council saw fit to approve that then every part of the development…is dealt with directly with council,” explained Cutforth.

This applies to the entire county.

Regulating approved medical marijuana operations falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government and municipalities such as Ponoka County and the Town of Ponoka cannot restrict applications.

One issue municipalities face is once Health Canada approves a company to grow medical marijuana, these groups argue they do not need approval for local zoning, explained Cutforth. “We’re doing what we can to say that, ‘Yes you do.’”

With this amendment, adjacent landowners will be able to provide their opinion during a public hearing.

This amendment came after an appeal from Canruderal Inc., a company that sought land in Ponoka to construct a medical marijuana operation. Canruderal was initially denied the application last November, which resulted in the appeal being made in January.

Ponoka County’s appeal board voted 4-1 in favour of upholding the county’s decision. Planning consultant Bob Riddett was then hired to come up with possible solutions to deal with these operations. He met with them in May and advised direct control was the best option for the county.

“(The bylaw) specifies what agriculture means, and what it means is it excludes marijuana production,” said Cutforth; “…and that medical marijuana will be a separate identity unto itself.”

He told councillors the county also needed to amend its home business and market gardens definitions to exclude production of medical marijuana.