Medical cannabis operation in B.C. Interior may face regulatory hurdles

Residents’ views mixed, uncertainty regarding ALC support could affect facility

Liht Cannabis Corps officials speak to the crowd at the Cedar Heights Community Association in Sorrento, one of two information meetings held Nov. 17, the other which attracted more than 200 people in Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Liht Cannabis Corps officials speak to the crowd at the Cedar Heights Community Association in Sorrento, one of two information meetings held Nov. 17, the other which attracted more than 200 people in Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

The Shuswap may become home to one of the largest medical cannabis growing operations in western Canada, and one of the few aiming to conduct purely organic cultivation methods.

Many in the area are feeling positive about the development, which aims to bring around 100 jobs both directly related to cannabis as well as office and transport work. However, the site of the project – on an isolated piece of property in Celista – has raised concerns from some neighbours who believe the large development will become a nuisance to their day-to-day lives, and affect the agricultural land it is being built on.

Under construction by Liht Cannabis Corp, formerly known as Marapharm Ventures, the site aims to house 10 buildings at 10,0000 square feet each, spread across 40 acres in the North Shuswap which were once a family farm. While the company has been trying to assuage concerns surrounding the development, there is still some push-back on the part of concerned residents.

“It’s an eyesore already, it is right beside the road. These are going to be bunker-style concrete buildings, and my stand that I maintain is, why here, in one of the only benches of farmland in the whole North Shuswap, why would you put this operation here?” asks Deanna Kawatski, who lives across from the site.

Related: Salmon Arm council approves two of three retail cannabis store applications

In an effort to confront any concerns head-on, Liht held two public information sessions relating to the development this past Saturday, Nov. 17, in Celista and Blind Bay. During these sessions, key members of the company as well as the team which will be operating the facility in Celista spoke at length – including Cody Hamilton, head cultivator and senior person in charge of operations, agriculture director Gabriel Cipes and Tyler Hereld who will act as head of security.

During the information session in Blind Bay, several residents expressed their support for the development, the potential economic benefits and jobs it may bring to the area. In addition, some local investors in the company came out to get an update on progress being made.

While a large focus of the Blind Bay meeting was on the purpose of the grow-op – providing high-grade medicinal cannabis to medical users in western Canada – questions of environmental footprint and community impact were also discussed.

“When you think about a marijuana grow op you tend to think about smell, mess, maybe stealing power and illicit activities going on you don’t want in your community that could be putting you or your home at risk,” Hamilton said. “Our facilities are not a conventional cannabis cultivation operation of the past. With our practices we take careful consideration of our output materials and impact on the environment. Bio-security and preservation are extremely important factors for us.”

To support this claim, Hamilton discussed the measures taken to limit their impact on the land. The facilities will operate using proprietary technology – some of which has been developed in partnership with NASA – that will reportedly completely contain all emissions, limit water use by extracting water from the air and recycle up to 85 per cent of the water used and generate their own power to avoid tapping into local lines. In addition, he stated they will completely forgo any use of fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in their cultivation.

Hamilton also spoke on questions of increased traffic in the area and times of operation, as residents raised concerns over around-the-clock traffic coming to and from the facility. He said the facility will run primarily during daytime business hours, and the traffic to and from the site was described as similar to what one could expect from a family farming operation.

The use of ALR land remains a point of contention for some residents.

“It’s a known fact these companies are going around and buying B.C. farmland; farmland is disappearing whether from drought or chemical agriculture, so many things are impacting it and we need to hang on to what we have got,” Kawatski says. “People will say there is a lot of ALR land that isn’t farmed; well maybe that is true but it still holds the potential for being farmed. If they do that kind of thing it destroys that potential.”

In July of this year, the Agricultural Land Commission introduced a regulation which designated “the production of marihuana in accordance with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation” as farm use supported on ALR land.

However, an amendment to the regulation limits the growing of cannabis to “outdoors in a field or inside a structure… that has a base consisting entirely of soil.”

Related: Two more government pot shops to open in Kamloops

Although not underground bunkers, in that regard, the development in Celista is contrary to ALC regulation: all 10 of the proposed buildings are concrete-based structures. However, the regulation also states any facilities in construction before July 13, with the proper permits in place for the purpose of growing cannabis or other crops, will be considered lawful under the regulation.

While the first two of the proposed 10 buildings at the Celista facility fall within the July 13 construction date, Martin Collins, director of policy and planning with the Okanagan ALC, says there is little certainty regarding the remaining eight buildings.

“The other eight buildings are still very much up in the air; they have to make an application for those for sure. They are not under construction, it doesn’t count. If it was a single unit and was under construction it would be different but they are all separate units,” Collins said.

The situation is a tricky one for the ALC – and many other regulatory bodies across Canada – because the fact is they are making many of these determinations for the first time.

“We don’t know if the ALC supports something like this, there has never been an application before,” Collins said. “We’re on the first ones, so when I say ‘up in the air,’ I mean it truly. Nobody knows if the ALC would support this or not.”

Related: Pot company hopes to replace jobs lost in mill closure in B.C. town

When asked about this during the meeting in Blind Bay, Liht’s independent director Richard Huhn expressed the opinion it would be unlikely the remainder of the development would be obstructed, considering how far along it already is.

Linda Sampson, Liht’s chief operating officer, stated: “We are not permitted under the ALR regulations to develop more than 25 per cent of our property. So it would be no different than somebody buying the land and putting up several dairy barns or something similar.”

Sampson insists the company is committed to learning from the lessons of many failed cannabis operations.

“We have seen things that are badly and poorly done. We have watched other companies who have raced ahead to become the biggest. Most people say, when they are in a bad situation, ‘in hindsight we should have done this.’ In our case on this particular project we have the hindsight of everybody who went ahead of us and did everything wrong,” she said.

Potentially complicating things further is the question of whether the company had the proper building permits in place to begin construction. The company reported to the ALC they were working under the assumption their buildings were considered farm buildings and thus did not require a building permit, but were later advised to apply for proper permits, which they did.

Currently, they have two permits in for the development with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, one for the construction and another for demolition of a building on the property. According to Marty Herbert, team leader of building and bylaw services with the CSRD, these applications include “approval of the proposed land use from the ALC.”


 

@Jodi_Brak117
jodi.brak@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

One of the 10 planned cannabis growing facilities being built on Garland Road near Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)                                One of the 10 planned cannabis growing facilities being built near Celista. The development is expected to house ten buildings at 10,000 square feet each. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

One of the 10 planned cannabis growing facilities being built on Garland Road near Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer) One of the 10 planned cannabis growing facilities being built near Celista. The development is expected to house ten buildings at 10,000 square feet each. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Construction underway on one of 10 planned 10,000-square-foot buildings which will contain cannabis grow ops near Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Construction underway on one of 10 planned 10,000-square-foot buildings which will contain cannabis grow ops near Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Liht Cannabis Corp’s independent director Richard Huhn and chief operating officer Linda Sampson speak to the crowd at the Cedar Heights Community Association in Sorrento, one of two public information meetings held Nov. 17, the other which attracted more than 200 people in Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Liht Cannabis Corp’s independent director Richard Huhn and chief operating officer Linda Sampson speak to the crowd at the Cedar Heights Community Association in Sorrento, one of two public information meetings held Nov. 17, the other which attracted more than 200 people in Celista. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Just Posted

A man accused of choking a 15-year-old in his tent in Beacon Hill Park Tuesday night has been arrested by Victoria police. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man accused of choking, sexually exploiting 15-year-old in Victoria tent arrested

Police arrested the 38-year-old in Beacon Hill Park Wednesday afternoon

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Jessica Sault of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation is hosting a virtual cedar weaving workshop through Royal Roads University on April 25. (Black Press Media file)
Cedar trees weave deeply into lives of coastal First Nations communities

Jessica Sault of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation hosts virtual cedar weaving workshop through Royal Roads

Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak in two houses at the Mount St. Mary long-term care home on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)
Island Health declares outbreak at Victoria long-term care home

Resident, staff member test positive for COVID-19 at Mount St. Mary facility

Island Health has extended an overdose advisory for Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health extends overdose advisory for Greater Victoria

The extension warns of an increase in opioid and stimulant overdoses in the region

A peacock struts by a pair of lamb siblings at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, which remains closed to the public. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
VIDEO: Victoria petting zoo optimistic about future after 13 months closed

Public helps non-profit Beacon Hill Children’s Farm with nearly $100,000 influx

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

The Coastal Fire Centre is looking ahead to the wildfire season on Vancouver Island. (Phil McLachlan – Western News)
Coastal Fire Centre looking ahead at wildfire season on Vancouver Island

‘We’re asking people in the spring to be very careful’

There are lots of resources for seniors looking for information about COVID-19. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
COVID questions? Here are some phone-based resources available for seniors

Here is a list of numbers to keep on hand for Vancouver Islanders who aren’t fond of computers

Chum Salmon fry being examined with multiple motile and attached sea lice on Vargas Island. (Cedar Coast Field Station photo)
Study: Tofino fish farm sea lice infestations add fuel to push to remove open pens

Ahousaht First Nation asking for higher standards than what DFO requires

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Most Read