Pot-crop backlash: Billions to be made on farms, and residents ‘feel helpless’

The prospect of Central Saanich farmland being covered with cannabis greenhouses has mobilized a group of citizens who are fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Similar battles are being waged across the province as the B.C. government considers whether to continue treating cannabis as a crop or to banish it from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

A group called Citizens Protecting Agricultural Land has collected 1,400 signatures from people wanting marijuana-grow operations banned from protected farmland.

Adam Olsen, Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, presented the petition in the legislature on Thursday.

“We’re not against marijuana, we’re against cannabis factories on agricultural land,” said Ken Marriette, the group’s spokesman.

The group is made up of residents living in the Martindale Valley in Central Saanich, but signatures were collected from across the province.

“This tranquil farming community should not be used for this type of large-scale production,” Marriette said.

The petition is largely in response to a proposal by Evergreen Medicinal Supply, a Health Canada-licensed grower, to build 21 high-security, glass and metal greenhouses on the Stanhope Dairy Farm, which is owned by the Rendle family.

Shawn Galbraith, Evergreen’s CEO, is in the process of purchasing the 98-acre farm, which sits between Lochside Drive and Old East Road.

“This is farmland. We are about to embark on an agricultural business,” Galbraith told the Times Colonist during a recent visit to the proposed site. “We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact on people who live here.”

During a meeting with Olsen, Jane Gregory, who lives in the Martindale Valley, said residents feel “helpless.”

“We know this is going to have a big impact on everyone in the area,” Gregory said.

With billions to be made on legalized recreational cannabis, Olsen said speculators are setting their sights on agricultural land which could raise prices and squeeze out young farmers.

“When the speculation on agricultural land is coming from all sorts of different avenues — whether it be residential or commercial activities, or industrial activities — that’s impacting the price of that land. Now I think [cannabis] is another example of the impact on that land,” said Olsen, the B.C. Green Party’s agriculture spokesman and a former Central Saanich councillor.

“And from my perspective, I think we should be taking a pause and say what kind of impact is this going to have.”

Central Saanich council in February passed a motion, introduced by Mayor Ryan Windsor, asking Premier John Horgan and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to place a moratorium on cannabis production on ALR land until the province consults with farmers, municipalities, industry and the public.

Windsor said the municipality cannot pass bylaws that conflict with provincial regulations.

“There’s a lot of stuff around this file, for sure, and in little old Central Saanich we’ve got our legitimate concerns, but we can only do so much.”

B.C.’s Liberal government in 2015 decided to allow federally licensed medical cannabis operations on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve. As a result, speculators looking for a piece of the green rush have been eyeing relatively inexpensive farmland for their pot projects.

Politicians in Delta on the Lower Mainland have asked the provincial government to restrict cannabis production on ALR land after Emerald Health Therapeutic went public with plans to build a 1.1-million-square-foot cannabis growing facility in East Ladner.

An independent commission is consulting with farmers and stakeholders across B.C. on the revitalization of the Agricultural Land Reserve. However, Marriette said the commission’s survey only has one question relating to recreational cannabis.

His group is sending letters to the commission urging them to protect food security by blocking cannabis operations.

The commission is expected to report to Popham by the end of the summer.

Pot replaces peppers at world’s largest cannabis farm in Langley, B.C.

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