An application to build a large 50,000 square foot marijuana grow operation near Whippletree Junction in the Cowichan Valley is raising concerns.
Chris Gilbert, a neighbour of the property on Leney Road, in the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Electoral Area E where the grow operation is proposed, said the rural site is not a proper location for such a facility.
The property is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and the proponents of the pot operation have made a non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission to use the property, which was a dairy farm, for their project.
The CVRD’s advisory planning commission discussed the application at its meeting last week, even before the ALC makes its decision on the application, and it’s expected the commission will meet again to discuss the project before it is sent to the district’s board of directors for consideration.
“They would have to pave over an acre of good farmland, that we would never get back, to build a two-story concrete bunker to grow plants in that will never touch the soil on the land,” Gilbert said.
“It should be placed in an industrial area instead of on farmland.”
Gilbert said he’s also concerned about noise and odour pollution from the operation, as well as its use of water.
“The average marijuana plant uses 22 litres of water, so millions of litres of water will be needed a year from the Koksilah aquifer, which is already under stress, for this operation,” he said.
“I have four children, so I’m also worried about the crime this type of operation could bring to the neighbourhood.”
Ian Morrison, chairman of the CVRD, said he hasn’t seen details of the application yet as it still early in the process and has not reached the board table, but acknowledged that most regulatory controls of pot operations of this nature lie with other levels of government.
But he said each application for such projects involves different and unique land-use issues, which the CVRD’s board must consider, and the board will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
He said there’s a lot more to applications for marijuana operations than the usual requests for rezoning, including the fact that recreational pot growing is a new industry that could bring a lot of jobs to the area.
“If this was just about any other horticultural product than marijuana, there would be no outcry about these rezoning applications,” he said.
“I also think the fear of increased crime is a red herring. From my experience, when looking at these operations, you would never know what they are. They have high fences and high security so it’s not like people can expect to break in at night and steal a handful of bud and run away. They are well monitored and supervised.”
As for increased pressure on the aquifer, Morrison said that traditional crops do use a lot of water, but systems used in state-of-the-art marijuana operations actually use a fraction of the water that is required on an average farm.
“There already has been some serious research and investment in this industry, and many of these questions were asked and answered five years ago,” he said.