On December 19th, Council defeated Zoning By -Law Amendment 2016 -129. ZBA 2016 – 129 was proposed to rezone a six acre parcel of land, that is well screened from Hwy 169 to permit the growing and processing of marijuana for medical purposes. The vote was 8 to 2 against the rezoning application.
What was proposed was a relatively small 10,000 square foot cultivation and packaging facility near Torrance. Staff had also recommended against permitting any retail sales and the proponent indicates that all shipments will be via courier, not from the factory door. This property currently has 2 warehousing type buildings that are used mainly for storing boats. It is barely visible from Hwy 169 and the buildings and boats are well back from the scenic corridor. Currently the property can be used for agricultural activities, extractive operations, land extensive commercial and industrial businesses (contractors yard) and small scale institutional, commercial and industrial activities. These uses are not dissimilar to what was requested.
Health Canada will only licence a facility where the municipality is supportive of the venture. At the present time there are more than 20 licenced medical marijuana facilities in Ontario alone. The largest, Tweed Inc., is located in Smiths Falls in the old Hershey Chocolate Factory and is more than 30 times the size of what was proposed in Muskoka Lakes. It is anticipated that the estimated 60,000 users of Medical Marijuana in Canada today will grow to over 300,000 by 2024.
Based on many of the objections to this Zoning By-Law Amendment, there appears to be a wide spread perception that this highly regulated operation will be similar to your illegal recreational grow op.. Such as one where a couple are growing marijuana plants in their basement and selling dime bags to the local teens out the back door or another that will be run by an organized crime ring, like a biker gang. I can assure you that all Medical Marijuana production and processing operations are licenced and regulated by Health Canada. They follow regulations that apply to narcotics and all controlled substances in this country. Stringent exacting record keeping, highly regulated security and closely controlled quality assurance are enforced by Health Canada. Since this is a new venture in Canada, I am sure all operators will be “under the microscope” to ensure compliance. It is also interesting to note that many of the companies who are growing, processing and marketing medical marijuana are publicly listed companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Most municipalities would bend over backwards to attract any pharma operation to their community and Medical Marijuana ,to be exact, is a prescription pharmaceutical product. Why are pharmaceutical production facilities attractive to most municipalities? First they usually pay reasonable wages, salaries and benefits, significantly better than minimum wage. Second, they offer year round full time employment and third they are very clean, minimally polluting manufacturing facilities.
Muskoka Lakes Council has approved and endorses a Strategic Plan that encourages economic development and a four season economy (full time year round jobs). The proponent indicated that when fully operational, this small facility would provide up to 24 full time equivalent positions. Even if it was half this number, this would be the best news story in Torrance since the railway came to town over a century ago. Most positions would not be highly skilled and in an area where people have transportation challenges, many could actually walk to work, if they lived in Torrance.
I believe this type of business is compatible with our “Vision” of “Our Muskoka” and it appears to have significant growth opportunities in the decade ahead. In addition, there could be other employment and processing opportunities for entrepreneurial types to expand with value added products, such as cannabis oils, extracts, pills and food products.
I would encourage people to look to the future and not to the past history of recreational marijuana grow ops and illegal consumption. We have all moved beyond, prohibition and moonshine stills and we can see the benefits small breweries and a winery have brought to Muskoka.