Thomas Elliot addresses the Cedar Community Hall as panelists listen (Cole Schisler photo)

Proposed outdoor cannabis farm faces opposition from Cedar residents

The residents held a meeting at the Cedar Community Hall to address those concerns Tuesday night

A group of Cedar residents living along Quennell road are concerned about a new cannabis farm that’s opening up in the neighbourhood. The residents held a meeting at the Cedar Community Hall to address those concerns Tuesday night.

Turnout was high — many in attendance were concerned about possible impacts the cannabis farm could have on the community. The event was paid for and sponsored by the Quennell road residents.

A panel of residents including Donna Laing, who lives adjacent to the farm; Murray McDougall, who lives next to the farm and is concerned about the impact on his young children; Linda Baxter, who expressed concerns about possible impacts to Quennell Lake; Laurie Quesnel, who lives across from the farm and is concerned about impacts on her therapeutic horse riding business; and Marilee Grant, who spoke on her issues with laws and regulation around cannabis farms. Frances Lasser and David Brown — both residents of Quennell road — moderated the discussion.

The panel also included Rich Dowker, CEO of Crofton Craft, the cannabis company that will operate the farm. Dr. Thomas Elliot, a third party consultant, and agrologist with Madrone Environmental Services was in attendance to share science and information around possible impacts of the cannabis farm. Elliot’s time was paid for by Crofton Craft.

The farm property lies on a flood plain for Quennell Lake. In the winter time, the field floods with water, and is pumped back into the lake in the spring. The property was previously a potato farm which installed that pump system. Residents expressed concern that any chemicals used, and silt would feed back into Quennell Lake. The lake is currently experiencing large algae blooms, and weeds that are taking over sections of the shoreline. Some believe it is directly related to the pumping of the flood plain.

Under the Agricultural Land Commission, (ALC), cannabis is an agricultural product that can be grown on any ALR land. There is no community consultation required for cannabis farms, and regional districts do not have jurisdiction to regulate them. That power lies with the province, and with Health Canada.

Concerns were initially sparked when a chain link fencing topped with barbed wire, and security cameras appeared around the farm at 2550 Quennell Road. Upon learning the property would become a cannabis farm, the residents sought a meeting with Crofton Craft.

According to the residents, Crofton Craft told them that the cannabis plants would be photoperiod plants — the broadleaf variety that can grow 3 metres (10 feet) in height. They also said the plants would be fertilized with bat guano, and watered with an underground piping system that would feed the plant roots with water pumped from Quennell Lake. Residents also claimed there would be no odour control on the farm.

At the meeting, Dowker said those plans had changed. The farm will now grow auto-flowering cannabis ruderalis plants. Cannabis ruderalis is a smaller, bushy variety of cannabis that produces less sap, and less THC content. Dowker also backtracked on the use of bat guano, and repeatedly told the residents that Crofton Craft will not use any pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer. Cannabis will be processed and dried on site. Dowker refuted claims that the farm will not have odour control.

“Minimal odour control is not in accordance with Health Canada regulations. We will have significant odour control. I can’t say it’ll be perfect, but the standard is standing outside of the building you’re not able to smell it, and that’s the standard we’re going for,” Dowker said.

The plants will only emit odour during the budding period, which Dowker said will be start in August, and end in September. Due to the lower quantity of sap from the ruderalis plants, Dowker believes the smell will be far less than what people are anticipating. Dowker said Crofton Craft will use regenerative farming practices to ensure the health of the soil. They will also prioritize environmental stewardship of the lake.

Despite Dowker’s assurances, many residents remained concerned.

“My wife and I have lived on Quennell road with our three young children, who are two, four, and six years old,” Murray McDougall said. “Our home shares property lines with the Crofton Craft cannabis farm. A chainlink and barbed wire fence has been erected approximately 75 feet — direct line of sight — from our property line where our kids play daily, especially in the summer… It is a great concern that these kids will now live with this cannabis farm in their face every day.”

Laurie Quesnel echoed concerns about the fencing, security cameras, and the possible smell.

“The cannabis farm will greatly impact my business,” she said. “The appearance will be intimating to the children, as well as adults, with the prison style fencing… the smell will be horrible — horrendous. The security cameras will be invasive of privacy for all of us living here.”

Health Canada regulations require the fencing for security. Dowker said Crofton Craft asked what the minimum requirements for fencing were, and adhered to those guidelines. He also said that out of concern for privacy, the security cameras will only monitor the fence line, and will be programmed to avoid peering into neighbouring properties.

Other concerns included the impact on the environment. Residents cited a California study that found cannabis plants required 22 litres of water per plant per day — which Quennell Lake cannot accommodate. Elliot refuted those claims, as the study was done in California — a much drier climate than Vancouver Island. The study also focused on larger photoperiod plants that were grown in pots. Crofton Craft will grow their auto-flowering cannabis in the ground. There is too much variance in the water needs to give an accurate estimate.

Panelist Linda Baxter expressed concern about the way various levels of government are dealing with cannabis regulations. She said the government needs to slow down and fully consider the impacts cannabis farms will have on communities like Cedar. She added that Quennell road residents are being made to take part in an experiment — and that nobody knows what will happen next.

Keith Wilson, RDN area director for Cedar, said the district has no plans to regulate odour control for cannabis farms. He did put a motion forward directing RDN staff to report to the agricultural advisory committee to try and get some control given back to the regional districts. The Union of B.C. Municipalities also wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture, advocating for more power to be given to municipalities and regional districts.

“Unfortunately, the agricultural land committee and the ministry of agriculture don’t think we should be involved in it,” Wilson said. “…we’re trying to get them to listen to the communities, but so far, they’re not doing much.”

At the end of the meeting, the residents encouraged attendees to sign petitions against the cannabis farm, and write letters to the provincial government. The residents will be making a presentation to the RDN in November about their concerns around cannabis farms.

Dowker answered several questions around the farm, and remained at the meeting for at least 45 minutes after it ended speaking one-on-one with residents. In his closing remarks he thanked the organizers for hosting the meeting, and thanked the community for expressing their concerns.

“We plan on being an organic farm, and we plan on being part of the community. We hear and understand your concerns, and we’ll do our best to work with the community,” Dowker said.

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