Bid for pot plant springs to public hearing

MediJean has applied to Health Canada for a licence to produce and sell medical marijuana. It already operates a medical marijuana research facility at its 24,126-square-foot facility at 11320 Horseshoe Way. - MediJean photo
MediJean has applied to Health Canada for a licence to produce and sell medical marijuana. It already operates a medical marijuana research facility at its 24,126-square-foot facility at 11320 Horseshoe Way.
— image credit: MediJean photo

Richmond is on track to becoming home to its first large-scale commercial medical marijuana grow-op, after city council unanimously supported a bid Monday from would-be producer MediJean.

"I feel we've engaged in a very rigorous process, and the next step is to hear from the public at a public hearing," said Coun. Linda McPhail.

MediJean is seeking to rezone its medical marijuana research facility at 11320 Horseshoe Way to expand into marijuana production. Its facility is located on the same block as the Richmond RCMP headquarters and 225 metres from Ironwood mall.

Council gave the application first reading this week. A public hearing is now set for March 17. If a favourable council vote follows, MediJean would to be clear to start pot production once it secures a licence from Health Canada.

MediJean CEO Jean Chiasson told The Richmond Review he believes a licence is "imminent."

Coun. McPhail said council banned medical marijuana growing facilities last December, allowing the city's rezoning process to govern the process through a  "cautious management approach that looks at potential impacts such as land use, safety, security and the environment on a case-by-case basis."

Coun. Bill McNulty, chair of council's planning committee, said council members and staff have been "extremely thorough and careful" in considering the proposal. McNulty also said there are a lot of "misconceptions" about medical marijuana.

"I think we can learn a lot from this," he said, noting councillors will soon tour the facility. "It's going to be a standard for the industry."

Outside of medical uses, marijuana is still an illegal drug in Canada. The application by MediJean, which would only serve medical users prescribed by a doctor, has led to some confusion among residents, said Coun. Chak Au.

"We are not talking about legalization of marijuana for recreational use. What we have before us is an application for pharmaceutical production of medical marijuana, and I think we should deal with this application as such."

Au said the file should be treated as any other pharmaceutical organization applying to do business.

The federal government's existing medical marijuana program ends March 31, when all licences to possess and grow the drug expire, and licensed commercial producers become the legal distributors.

Under the new program—aimed at cutting abuse and improving safety—over 450 applicants have requested commercial grow licences from Health Canada. Eight have been approved so far.

Health Canada has not set a limit on licences.

Since users won't be permitted to grow their own, Coun. Ken Johnston fears cost of the drug will become a barrier.

"I'm a little concerned that the cost will be driven up to the point where people will be driven back to buying it off the street. And buying what, who knows."

Coun. Linda Barnes said there's a petition circulating against the new Health Canada program over cost.

Dried pot costs users $1.80 to $5 per gram, according to federal government estimates. Buying marijuana from commercial suppliers under the new program will cost users an estimated $7.60 per gram, but they'll benefit from a more regulated supply, officials say.

Asked about the price of his pot, MediJean's CEO said "the market will determine the price."

"However, MediJean is cognizant of the concerns that have been raised and will be setting their average price cheaper than the average illegal compassion club," said Chiasson, who added MediJean will also be offering a subsidization program for patients.

Review readers have expressed some concern with the proposed facility, particularly smell and neighbourhood intrusion.

Chiasson said there will be no smell in or outside the facility. The building has been retrofitted with "state-of-the-art air scrubbing technology" to filer air and ensure no smell is produced. As for its appearance, MediJean won't be operating a storefront and looks like "any other pharmaceutical company in an industrial park," he said.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said his concern with the new Health Canada regulations is the lack of a federal plan to close out the old program. Brodie said there could be hundreds of home-based medical grow-ops in Richmond whose licences will expire in the spring.

"They just believe that once the licences expire they will stop being used. I think there's a far more serious element to it than that," he said. "There's no program to deal with them. That is I'm sure an issue that we're going to hear more about in due course."

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