Municipalities need say when medical marijuana grow ops set up says St. Clair mayor

St. Clair Township has been dealing with a company with a permit to grow medical marijuana which, for a time, was using this old school.

St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold says wants to make sure municipalities have a say as the federal government legalizes marijuana.

Over the past two years, the municipality has been quietly trying to deal with a company which obtained a permit to grow medical marijuana and set up shop in a residential neighbourhood without any local approvals.

In  late 2014, Arnold says council became aware of the medical marijuana operation in the former elementary school on Murray Street in Corunna. The township learned the operation did have a license from the federal government but it was expired.

The township then went to court to make sure the operation didn’t start up again.

Arnold says under the federal government’s licensing rules, medical marijuana operators must consult with the municipal government before getting a license, something the owners of the Murray Street operation didn’t do.

Arnold says it is important for the municipalities to have a say in where the operations exist.

“It’s not prohibited, it is a legal facility, but we need to make sure its zoned the right way to occur,” he says. “We want them out in an industrial area so you don’t have an issue if anything caught on fire. You could handle a fire in an industrial area but not in a residential area.”

The mayor added it would be “easier for security” because an industrial area is  “not conducive for crime” because it has higher security.

“It is like a greenhouse operation in rural area; they need to come to council. This not illegal and it is not an illegal process; a lot of people have a tremendous need. Are you going to deny that? You’re going to try to work with them (the medical marijuana operators) and put them in the right spot.”

Arnold says nearly a year later, the operation is still empty and the township’s legal team is still trying to get the owner of the medical marijuana facility to give St. Clair a clear plan of how it is going to comply with the Zoning Bylaw which does not allow the old school to be used for an industrial or commercial purpose. So far the owners haven’t filed a plan with the township.

Arnold says the township could have been spared the lengthy legal battle if the federal government would have take one simple extra step in the medical marijuana approval process. “The piece missing to me is they (the potential operators) should show proof that the zoning is proper before (the federal government) issues the license.

“The process now is they leave it up to the proponent to do their contact with municipality but there is no checks and balances to see the zoning is in place.”

Arnold adds people buying heavy equipment have to prove they have the right license before they drive away. “I can’t say ‘I can’t drive the truck, but give me the keys anyway.’

“Everyone else has to show proof, they just had to make their application.”

Arnold says it’s particularly important as the federal government works on the legalization of marijuana. The federal health minister has vowed to have legislation ready by 2017. Arnold wants the feds to include municipal zoning approval as a condition of the license to produce medical marijuana.

“The sitting government now is moving further along that line more open for those facilities to operate but we still have to make sure there are checks and balances in place.”