Tofino’s municipal council has approved the town’s first commercial cannabis production facility, issuing a two-year temporary use permit for Tofino Harvest Company.
The company plans to set up shop on a one-acre lot at 700 Industrial Way under a micro cultivation licence from the federal government. That licence allows a maximum plant canopy of 200 square metres and an annual cultivation of 600 kilograms.
Council first reviewed the permit request on May 14, but declined to move it ahead until further information about the facility’s expected signage and a waste management plan was produced. It was unanimously approved by council during their June 14 meeting, though remains contingent on district staff receiving a satisfactory waste management plan.
The district’s manager of community sustainability explained that the company does not plan to display any cannabis related signage at its site and that, while a formal waste management plan had not been produced, the company is aiming for a ‘zero waste’ operation, with plants being composted back into the soil. He added that significant wastewater is not expected to be produced at the site, but noted the company is still working with BC Hydro to ensure enough power is available.
Coun. Duncan McMaster had asked for the waste management plan during May 14’s deliberations and was disappointed that the applicant had not produced one in time for June 14’s meeting.
“I think it’s a great goal to say you want to be zero waste, but I think we need to have a bit more detail,” he said. “To be perfectly honest, I could write a waste management plan from what I’ve just done on this weekend and I’m disappointed that the applicants haven’t done a better job of it. I think it shows a bit of lack of respect for what we’re asking.”
Coun. Andrea McQuade questioned why a plan was needed, considering the applicant had presented a zero-waste model.
“From what I’m understanding of the methodology, the waste management is essentially aiming towards zero waste, most of it’s being reused. I’m unsure of what type of waste management plan could be provided that didn’t just draw a big circle,” she said.
McMaster agreed to move the application ahead, provided staff receives a satisfactory plan prior to officially issuing the permit. He added the plan should include security measures and suggested other towns have struggled with cannabis plants being tossed into dumpsters or open compost heaps that have become magnets for “people dumpster diving.”
McQuade seemed perplexed by McMaster’s suggestion.
“I’m confused. I’m sorry. Are we implying that people will be rooting through the compost to get marijuana,” she asked.
McMaster responded that other communities have reported such issues occurring.
“From what literature I’ve read, there’s various ways of composting marijuana, but one of the key things is security. If you’re going to do a compost heap, this thing has got to be fenced-off so people can’t get in it,” he said.
Coun. Dorothy Baert agreed with McMaster that a waste management plan should be “clear and on the record.”
Rodgers noted that the Tofino RCMP had reviewed the application and raised no concerns and that no concerns had come from property owners in the area. He added that security would be mandated under the company’s federal licence, but that council could make the permit contingent on a waste management plan that included a security strategy for any compost or waste.
Several councillors raised concern over allowing a permit for cannabis production without going through the same process the district had undertaken with cannabis retail stores to ensure social benefits for the community.
“This is a social licence to produce something that has taken society a long time to come to terms with and, in doing so, there’s a quid pro quo in some ways of the social benefit,” Baert said. “So, I’m not very excited to see nothing.”
Rodgers noted that the district spent over a year developing the social benefit policy for cannabis retail stores and there is no such policy for production facilities.
“We literally do not have the tools to have this conversation at this point about social benefits associated with this proposal,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly how that’s going to work with cannabis retail.”
McQuade who had expressed concern over the lack of mandated social benefit during council’s May 14 discussion, said she had come around and now believed it would be unfair to penalize an applicant who had followed the district’s current process to obtain a permit.
“We’ve chosen not to create a social procurement policy in terms of growing marijuana. We could have done that at the same time as we chose to do it with our retail policy, we chose not to for whatever various reasons,” she said, adding that she was not on council when that decision was made.
“I don’t think that it is fair to a business to penalize them for that reason that we did not create a policy. We chose to go a certain route with cannabis retail, right or wrong, that’s the manner in which we proceeded. We did not choose to do that with marijuana production…I don’t think it’s fair or business-friendly to stop that and change routes right now.”
Council unanimously approved issuing the permit to Tofino Harvest Company, contingent on staff receiving a satisfactory waste management plan.