© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Charottetown Mayor Clifford Lee looks over some paperwork during the regular meeeting of city council Monday night.
The City of Charlottetown may be paving the way for the province's first medical marijuana production facility.
Council voted unanimously (9-0, Coun. Eddie Rice was not present for the vote) to proceed to the public consultation phase to consider an amendment to the city's zoning and development bylaw.
Such an amendment would add a definition for medical marijuana production facility. The resolution also stipulated that a medical marijuana production facility could only be built in a heavy industrial zone or a business park industrial zone, such as the bio-commons park in the former neighbourhood of West Royalty.
"We didn't do anything yet,'' cautioned resolution mover Coun. Rob Lantz, chairman of the planning committee. "We just decided that we will take the issue to public consultation to see if we'll amend the bylaw.''
The federal government launched a $1.3 billion free market in medical marijuana last fall. Health Canada is phasing out an older system that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality, often diverted illegally to the black market.
Under new federal legislation, large indoor marijuana farms certified by the RCMP and health inspectors will produce, package and distribute a range of standardized weed, all of it sold for whatever price the market will bear. The first sales took place this past October, delivered directly by secure courier.
Lantz said this step by council is in response to the changes made federally.
"We're not in receipt of any kind of application for one of these facilities here but I have heard rumours that, perhaps, there is someone interested and who is in discussion with the federal government about the possibility of doing that here so we need to be prepared to have a bylaw that regulates these kinds of facilities if, in fact, we do receive an application.''
Health Canada is placing no limits on the number of these new capital-intensive facilities, which will have mandatory vaults and security systems. Private-dwelling production will be banned. Imports from places such as the Netherlands will be allowed.
"There is a perfectly legal use under federal regulation,'' Lantz said. "We did discuss the types of areas where these types of facilities would be appropriate.
"The bio-commons is probably a logical place or any industrial area. In the bio-commons (area), there are all kinds of facilities out there that produce bio-active ingredients of one sort or another, maybe not so different from medical marijuana.''
Canada is in the midst of a transitional period with the federal regulations as Health Canada phases out the old system by March 31, while encouraging medical marijuana users to register under the replacement regime and to start buying from the new factory-farms. As of October, there were 37,400 medical marijuana users across the country recognized by the department but officials project that number will swell more than 10-fold, to as many as 450,000 people, by 2024.
The profit potential is enormous. A gram of dried marijuana bud on the street sells for about $10 and Health Canada projects the legal stuff will average about $7.60 this year, as producers set prices without interference from government.
"I view it as an economic development opportunity for the city if, in fact, something like this comes along so we need to be able to deal with it from our zoning and development bylaw perspective,'' the councillor said.
(With files by The Canadian Press)