Municipal officials should treat commercially licensed medical marijuana grow-ops like they would a brewery, according to a local businessman, embracing the changes to Canada's federal medicinal pot industry that will come into effect this spring.
Beginning April 1, Health Canada will no longer produce medical marijuana for the more than 500,000 approved users in the country, instead turning it over to approved commercial producers that meet the government's requirements. Under the current regulations, licensed users can grow their own pot; buy from approved small-scale producers or the federal government. Consumers will then have to order marijuana from large-scale growers and have it shipped to them in the mail.
"From my perspective, you're talking about big (grow) operations that are going to create jobs and taxes," said Patrick Smyth, who's partnered with Olympic gold medallist Ross Rebagliati on a concept for a medical marijuana directory, café and outlet store. "To me, any municipality should embrace this as they would embrace a brewery or something like that."
Rebagliati has expressed interest in establishing a store in Whistler, as well as Toronto and Vancouver, that would give medical pot users access to various strains from licensed producers, including several branded under Rebagliati's Ross' Gold label. The storefront, along with the Ross' Gold website, would serve as a directory of sorts for users, making it easier for them to obtain prescriptions for medical marijuana from producers that have partnered with the Olympic snowboarder.
Smyth also noted that none of the growers Rebagliati will partner with have spent "less than seven figures" on their grow-op facilities.
"These are state-of-the-art, secure facilities," he said. "It's more of a greenhouse style of growing than what you're traditionally used to seeing."
Rebagliati is also exploring the potential for expanding his brand into Colorado and Washington, the first U.S. states to vote to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use last November.
Earlier this month, Whistler council directed staff to begin preparing a zoning amendment bylaw regulating medical marijuana in the resort ahead of next year's federal changes.
Coun. Jayson Faulkner, who raised the motion at the council meeting, said the move is similar to other municipalities which have put steps in place to ensure licensed producers are integrated effectively into the community.
"It's not necessarily to regulate grow-ops, although that's a part of it," he said. "The federal laws will be clearer in the laws governing who the grow-op operators are, and the logistics of that work, but they certainly don't get into detail about where those may or may not be appropriate within a community.
"We wanted to get out ahead of it, knowing that in some respect it's no different than if we were regulating a liquor store."
Many municipalities across B.C. have already established bylaws to further regulate medical marijuana ahead of Ottawa's changes, like Surrey, which now requires a public hearing for any proposed grow-op in the community, or Abbotsford, where the facilities have been banned outright. Abbotsford's mayor, Bruce Bannon, has cited public safety concerns and a history of problems with the federal government's previous medical marijuana concerns as his reason for supporting the ban.
"What we're dealing with right in front of us isn't necessarily a legalization issue like Washington State or Colorado are dealing with, but that being said, it seems like we're on a path to that," Faulkner said. "Just as we would with liquor or anything else, I think we need to be cautious as we go through this process."
Smyth said the Ross' Gold website will begin offering medical marijuana strains in the spring after Ottawa's new regulations come into effect.