By Tristan Marks
The message from Town of Lincoln at last week’s open houses regarding cannabis production was clear: every weapon in the municipal armoury will used to resolve the grow-op problems.
Lincoln CAO Mike Kirkopoulos said his recommendation to council was to use everything from zoning bylaw amendments to municipal licensing regimes and beyond to cut back the proliferation of growers which contribute to issues such as odour.
“I’d rather we go hard on this issue and let a court of law tell us we’ve gone too far with legislation,” he said to residents gathered at the Lincoln Community Centre Wednesday night.
Citizens from across Lincoln – and some from Grimsby and West Lincoln – came out to voice their concerns, complaints and suggestions about the on-going issue.
The Town staff’s presentation introduced some potential solutions.
Staff suggested a bylaw amendment which would allow the town to control the location of cannabis in relation to residential areas and especially sensitive zones such as schools.
Greg Bender, a consultant contracted by the Town on key policy matters, said the town decided that bylaws were among their top priority.
“The bylaws need to be altered because they aren’t doing their job,” he said.
However, Bender admitted that bylaws alone would not be enough to solve the issue as zoning bylaws have no authority over existing use of property.
“You can’t retroactively apply a zoning bylaw,” he said.
To address that shortcoming, Bender said the Town was considering implementing an odour control bylaw as well as a municipal licensing regime directed towards cannabis growers which could be enforced through regular check-ups and renewals.
Bender said the Town was looking into every possible option while considering how similar municipalities such as Pelham and Oakville were dealing with the same host of problems.
“We’re pretty much recommending everything,” said Bender, echoing Kirkopoulos’ statement.
Lincoln’s manager of planning services, Matt Bruder said the Town’s interim control bylaw (ICB) has been effective in stopping new legal grow-ops from sprouting. He said that Lincoln had not received any new applications since passing it.
Kirkopoulos noted that council “definitely has” the opportunity to extend the ICB another year when asked about it after the open house.
“If need be, council would and can do so,” he said.
“Staff is exploring if a short extension is necessary as we go through this process of a new zoning bylaw specific to cannabis.”
However, Kirkopoulos added any odour control bylaw would be difficult to enforce.
“The difficulty with establishing an odour bylaw is that odour can often be intermittent (depending on wind conditions) and it can be difficult to definitively identify the source,” he explained.
“That said, there are a few other municipalities looking to implement odour bylaws. We will also definitely be moving in this direction.”
During the question period, Lincoln residents had a chance to present comments, concerns and inquiries to the Town staff directly.
Most of their comments revolved around the odour given off by marijuana greenhouses. Many said the pungent nuisance negatively impacted their quality of life in Lincoln.
Residents said they were unable to enjoy their own backyards due to the constant skunky smell, some complained about getting headaches from it.
One resident asked if any research had been done to determine if cannabis odour was toxic.
Bruder said that researchers are still investigating that, but added that scientists have found that marijuana emissions contained “volatile organic compounds,” although they have not declared it a pollutant as such.
Another resident asked what would happen in the case of a greenhouse fire, and whether or not Lincoln’s volunteer fire department was trained to deal with such an event.
Kirkopoulos addressed this question after the open house.
“Our firefighters are equipped and trained to deal with cannabis. We have attended a number of marijuana grow-op fires in recent years – many outside of Lincoln – as part of our shared services and mutual aid arrangement and, like other types of farm/agricultural fires, been able to handle them,” he said.
“Although the crop may be different in some perspectives, the task of firefighting is essentially no different.”
Other residents brought up the province’s Environmental Protection Act (EPA), citing specific sections that addressed air quality.
Lincoln’s manager of municipal bylaw enforcement, Dan Smith, said that the municipality does not have the authority to enforce provincial legislation. He added that the municipality “definitely” can consider creating a bylaw based off of the provincial Act.
However, when asked about the EPA after the meeting, MPP Sam Oosterhoff said that his office was already informed by the Ministry of Environment that the EPA only applies to industrial land use. The province considers cannabis cultivation to be agriculture, which is exempt under that Act.
He added that his office is staying proactive on the issue, as many municipalities throughout his Riding have complained about the same issues.
“I’m already in talks with the Ministry of Agriculture about other options,” Oosterhoff said.
“Lincoln isn’t alone in this.”
After the open house concluded, Mayor Sandra Easton said council agrees with Kirkopoulos and will go as hard as it can with legislation to deal with the issue.
“Lincoln has worked really hard to develop our economic prospects,” she said.
“To think that federal legislation will put that at risk is not something that council is willing to accept.”
Easton said that Lincoln residents can help in the meantime by informing the bylaw department of any smells or “anything off” about near-by grow-ops. She also suggested taking pictures of suspected misuse or bylaw violations.
“Be our neighbourhood watch,” she said.
Town staff will present draft provisions to the Town Planning and Economic Development Committee at its meeting on Nov. 11 and then the final provisions at the committee’s Dec. 9 meeting.