County open to cannabis facilities, but staff advise a case-by-case approach

(Gazette file photo)




County staff advised council Tuesday against actively pursuing cannabis businesses or adopting any blanket support of the cannabis industry following the presentation of a report from the community development department.

Council asked for the report earlier this month when representatives from Neucrop Growers Canada indicated that a site in the Picton Industrial Park had been shortlisted for a prospective cannabis processing facility.

Neucrop president and CEO Paul Gillespie said the business would initially create 12 full-time, high-paying jobs as well as ongoing lab technician, processor, and agricultural full and part-time jobs. The company sought a municipality that would assist in the application and development process and a site with access to sufficient services that could be developed quickly.

Councillor Dianne O’Brien questioned whether there would be any benefit to the County pursuing the company rather than waiting for the company to make an offer on the property.

“My interest is in the 12 well-paid jobs they talked about,” she said. “I just don’t want to see them slip through our fingers because we weren’t actively lobbying this group.”

Gillespie said a letter of support from the municipality could give the site an edge during the Health Canada application process.

Staff weren’t able to identify any mention of a letter of support from a municipality as part of the current or proposed cannabis licensing regulations, the report says.

“There isn’t any action that the municipality is required to take as a part of any of these businesses’ licensing or application processes,” said community development director Neil Carbone.

As the report mentions, a letter of support from either the municipality or other local agencies or neighbours within that 500-metre radius may bolster an application because Health Canada seems to indicate that, if there are dwellings within that 500 metres, then it may mean the application is considered high risk and could be rejected on that basis, but not necessarily.”

The report says staff generally support the establishment of a cannabis producer or processor within the municipality as long as the facilities are sited and operated appropriately. It says council should consider the location of public and community facilities and reserve support until assurance is received that institutions like schools, churches, and parks are satisfied in cases where those businesses would like to locate nearby.

“I don’t think we should be offering any type of blanket support or letter to that specific business because we don’t have the specific information about what they’re wanting to build and where,” said Carbone. “We certainly have no issues with that type of development generally, but I think council needs to potentially hear from the public if a development is to occur very close to other buildings or dwellings and you need to know exactly what is happening with a business and a site before you provide that support.”

He said the recreational cannabis industry is still in its early days. There are a lot of other businesses within the industry inquiring about land and county services. That’s the nature of the business right now and there is still some volatility, he said.

“Staff at this point is not opposed or would not do anything to deter a potential developer that wanted to establish one of those businesses here,” Carbone said. “We’re just waiting for someone to come and make an offer or inquire with us and then we’ll go through the process accordingly.”

Carbone recalled the specific site mentioned by Neucrop had previously been purchased by company that proposed to build a solar panel production factory. Fluctuation in that industry ultimately saw that proposal disintegrate and the site was left vacant for several years. He said the municipality doesn’t know enough at this point to actively pursue cannabis businesses and shouldn’t jump on any one proposal.

Councillor Janice Maynard indicated she’d like more information about the company before providing support.

“Before we sell that property, which of course we would like to do and we would like to attract jobs, but we really need to make sure we’re dealing with a company that has a solid business plan and significant resources and background to bring it to fruition — especially with what happened to that property in the last go around,” she said.

Municipal staff met with Gillespie to outline the process the company should take if it wishes to move ahead with development of the proposed site. They also suggested that before asking for any form of formal support for the project, the company should make a formal offer on the property.

The report outlines some of the potential impacts the recreational cannabis industry might have on Prince Edward County.

No retail locations are currently planned for the county with initial distribution sites set for Belleville, Oshawa, and Kingston. Future locations have yet to be established. The report suggests the greatest impact on the local economy could come from producers or processors locating here, which could lead to increased property tax assessment and new jobs.

The municipality, the report says, could have little to do with the location of one of the facilities provided it is located in a zone that would permit that type of industrial activity. The municipality has received a number of requests for information relating to the establishment of cannabis production and processing sites in the past three to four months, however, the report says finding sites with the necessary services will be a significant challenge. Access to municipal water and sewer, three-phase power, and natural gas services, as well as finding a site with enough property to support future growth would limit where cannabis businesses could locate.

Additionally, staff provided some general information regarding the upcoming legalization of recreational cannabis and the licensing process that will be overseen by Health Canada. Legalization had been set for July 1, 2018, but that has been pushed back. No definitive date for legalization has been given.

Health Canada requires potential producers or processors to obtain a license through an application process. The application includes basic proposed site information as well as an assessment of potential public health, safety, or security risks — including the risk of the product being diverted to the black market.

In order to discern the potential risk, Health Canada also requires an up-to-date building location survey prepared and certified by a qualified surveyor. The document must show the lot dimensions, relative location, and dimensions of all buildings and improvements to the property, easements, right-of-way and other property interests, the report says.

The company must supply documents indicating the legal zoning of the proposed site and nearby lots as well as a recent aerial image of the site that shows surrounding lots within a 500-metre radius of the site. A detailed description of security measures and floor plans that includes each building on the site where any licensed activities are to take place must also be included.

Before submitting an application, the company also has to give notice of the address and activities that will take place at the site to senior police, fire, and government officials. The names of the officials will be included in the application and those officials will be contacted by Health Canada to confirm notice was received.

Cannabis production licenses are tied not only to the producer or processor but also to the property. Once a company obtains a license, Health Canada representatives can appear at any time to inspect the facility and confirm the terms of the license are being followed.