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Richmond mulls first pot plant

Richmond's first rezoning application for a medical marijuana grow-op is now in front of civic politicians at city hall.

City council effectively banned the facilities in December, but left the door open to hear applicants on a case-by-base basis. The first, MediJean, is to make its pitch at council's planning committee meeting late Tuesday.

The company, also known as 1348 Productions Inc., wants to rezone its industrial park building at 11320 Horseshoe Way to allow its 24,126-square-foot operation. The company already operates a medical marijuana research facility—the only one to set up in Richmond before council also banned them in December—and is now is seeking to expand into production.

Staff have ready amendments to the city's zoning bylaw and Official Community Plan if council decides to allow the pot plant.

"As this is a new land use in the city and its potential impacts are not fully known, a cautious approach is recommended in the proposed Official Community Plan policies by allowing only one medical marijuana production facility and not permitting any additional facilities city-wide," said Terry Crowe, city manager of policy planning, in a report.

Health Canada is overhauling regulations that allow Canadians access to the drug for medical purposes. The new program will cease to allow production of medical pot in homes previously licensed by Health Canada. Instead, approved users will buy it from licensed commercial producers.

City staff know of at least four potential operators who have applied for Health Canada licences to grow medical pot in Richmond.

MediJean's facility is surrounded by other light industrial buildings, and is located next to Richmond RCMP headquarters. According to city staff, police have reviewed facility plans and "are satisfied that the proponent's security proposal meets the RCMP's standards for this type of facility operation."

There are no schools or parks in the area, but the Shellmont residential neighbourhood is 450 metres away. Staff expect "minimal impacts to the surrounding businesses and industrial operations," noting the building's exhaust would pass through charcoal filters that would eliminate odour.

Health Canada is currently reviewing MediJean's application to become a licensed producer, according to staff.

If council endorses the project, it would still have to meet the test of a public hearing.

In a Jan. 21 letter to Mayor Malcolm Brodie, MediJean CEO Jean Chiasson said his company aims to be "the gold standard by which all companies in this industry will be compared," and believes the facility should have "no impact on the community in any noticeable shape or form."

"We also believe it is helpful to place any facility of this nature in close proximity to the RCMP to help fight against the stigma associated with the expiring regulations and therefore showing openness and transparency," he said.

"In addition to being open and transparent with our partners, we will be paying our taxes, unveiling corporate responsibility measures and creating jobs."

In 2001 the federal government introduced its medical marijuana program. It ends March 31, when all licences to possess and grow the drug expire, and licensed commercial producers become the legal distributors. New regulations are aimed at cutting abuse and improving safety, according to a Health Canada.

City staff noted just 500 people had Health Canada's authorization to possess the drug when the program began in 2001. By 2012, 21,986 people had clearance for the drug. This year, the number of approved users is expected to climb to 40,000.

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