Editorial: ALR cannabis rules

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Salt Spring Island’s reputation for niche craft products is all set to include marijuana come October.

Judging by some of the jokes that come at our expense, the island already has something of a reputation for enjoying the green stuff. When federal law makes recreational marijuana legal later this year, home-grown product with island branding could very well become a big part of the economy.

Pre-emptive moves by companies looking to cash in have brought a couple of industrial-type operations to the island already. Local land use planning body the Islands Trust had no ability to regulate facilities approved by the federal government for medical marijuana production as long as the zoning for the sites was “appropriate.” But the result of federal requirements for heightened security at such facilities created a contradiction in that concrete and steel bunkers were located on agricultural lands that could have been put to other use.

Provincial legislation that was announced Friday and took immediate effect now gives local governments and First Nations the ability to create legislations around concrete-based marijuana growing facilities if those operations are in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The move reflects a concern within the NDP government about the loss of farmland to other pressures. It also gives legs to a request from the Salt Spring Farmers’ Institute for the Islands Trust to create policy dealing with industrial marijuana production on arable land.

While marijuana is perhaps being unfairly singled out, other changes to ALR regulations are most likely coming this fall and this is a good first step to ensuring farmland retains soil with growing abilities.

But the ability to create new land-use policy will not benefit local governments or the communities they serve unless that power is acted on. The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee and its staff are already burdened by a large number of projects concerning water, affordable housing and other pressing needs. With local elections coming up on Oct. 20, and completion of current projects before then looking doubtful, it’s unlikely they will attempt to add another item to the list.

A new LTC should find a way to make marijuana policy a priority. Let’s hope the new gold rush doesn’t hit the island too hard before then.

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