Council presses rezoning on legal marijuana grow-op

NANAIMO – Covenant would restrict owners from applying for status as agricultural operation.

Nanaimo city council is inching ahead on rezoning for a proposed medical marijuana operation, despite uncertainties around tax revenue.

Nanaimo city council voted unanimously last week to push the rezoning question for a medical marijuana production facility into a public hearing and create a covenant to restrict land uses. It will also consider steps to prohibit any other medical marijuana facilities from setting up in Duke Point.

According to a city staff report, the latest action carries a low risk for industrial tax revenue losses, but there are are still no guarantees.

B.C. Assessment has indicated medical marijuana production facilities is an agricultural use which would allow medical marijuana company Lafitte Ventures to apply for farm status and lower taxes despite operating from industrial land.

A covenant will look to prohibit the company from applying for the tax change, but staff members say it might not be enforceable or have effect on the approach assessment authority takes in classifying the land.

Council has decided to move forward anyway with a legal document and a rezoning application calling for land to be changed to I4 – the only zoning that allows for medical marijuana production. While there were concerns about an eroding industrial tax base and revenue losses, the mayor says Lafitte has said it’s not interested in farm status and council is taking that public commitment at face value.

“I think they would be publicly challenged if they did attempt to change from what they had agreed to,” Ruttan said. “They had publicly agreed to pay taxes and not seek protection under the agriculture [assessment] and I accept them at their word.”

Lafitte Ventures representative Tonia Winchester said the rezoning still has to go through a public process and third bylaw reading but she’s optimistic it will happen with a covenant.

“[I] think there is strong support in the council and we’ve been getting a really warm reception from the community as well … people are really excited about the opportunity of having a legit marijuana business that is going to be above ground and not a black market,” Winchester said.

The rezoning goes to public hearing Dec. 5. The company is hoping to start growing marijuana in February and ship to patients when Health Canada brings in its new Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes regulation in April. The company will be making a $1.5-million capital investment in its property and will provide up to 40 new jobs.