WHEREAS governing, managing, and enforcing cannabis legislation is a joint responsibility shared by the federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal levels of government; and
WHEREAS under the Cannabis Act, cannabis may be grown in various quantities depending on the specified purpose, as permitted by Health Canada, creating significant variance in the size of cannabis operations that may be deemed “legal”; and
WHEREAS all individuals wishing to obtain any of the available federal licences to grow, process, or sell cannabis are expected to comply with all applicable provincial or territorial laws, as well as municipal bylaws (e.g., zoning and building permits); and
WHEREAS individuals seeking licences, or having obtained licences, to cultivate, process, or sell cannabis from Health Canada for medicinal purposes are expected to notify the municipality of planned growing activities, however, are not required to obtain confirmation that municipal requirements have been met; and
WHEREAS instances of non-compliance or contravention of existing land use regulations have been difficult for municipalities to observe and/or take action against, due to a lack of knowledge of legal sites of cannabis production currently operating within the municipality’s borders; and
WHEREAS the lack of information available to municipalities related to cannabis production sites has allowed for individuals licensed to grow small quantities of medical cannabis to abuse this license to grow excessive quantities; and
WHEREAS municipalities are responsible for land-use zoning and permitting of activities within their borders, which includes where cannabis can be commercially grown, processed, sold, and consumed; and
WHEREAS municipalities often struggle to manage land-use activities and conduct compliance monitoring on facilities producing cannabis because consistent information on the nature of such facilities is not available to municipalities; and
WHEREAS the risks to individuals or property related to the production of cannabis cannot be addressed or mitigated by municipalities without the municipality being aware of such activities taking place within its borders; and
WHEREAS there is currently no system available for municipalities to acquire information on planned or existing sites of cannabis production from other levels of government that currently possess that information; and
WHEREAS the only means by which municipalities may learn of sites of cannabis production come in the form of voluntary disclosure from the cannabis producer to the municipality, or if an individual lodges an official complaint to the municipality; and
WHEREAS existing gaps in cannabis legislation prevent municipalities from accurately distinguishing between legal and illegal growing operations; and
WHEREAS municipalities recognize that individuals have a right to privacy, particularly as it relates to medicating for medical conditions or ailments, and that the enforcement of local legislation must respect these rights to privacy;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) collaborate with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to advocate to Health Canada that municipalities be given open and continuous access to information on all licensed sites of cannabis production within their boundaries;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that RMA advocate to Health Canada that municipalities be given open and continuous information for the purposes of compliance monitoring and enforcement, including the results of any investigation conducted by an “inspector,” as described within the Cannabis Act.
At present, regulations surrounding cannabis cultivation are problematic, with each level of government responsible for various capacities in regulating the cannabis industry, from growing and cultivation down the supply chain to consumers of cannabis products. Within the current cannabis regime, there is nuance and complexity within each facet of the industry. From the number of licences available for producers to grow, cultivate, and distribute cannabis products to the rules governing processors and retailers, there is a need to provide accurate and dependable information to all involved in this industry. However, there are currently significant gaps in legislation that prevent this reliable information from being accessed by municipalities.
This resolution aims to uncover the significant challenges currently experienced by municipalities to regulate land use applications and permit issues related to sites of cannabis production. Specifically, this resolution aims to address:
Under the Cannabis Act, the federal government is responsible for setting industry-wide standards for the cannabis industry, such as the legality of the substance, health and safety requirements, and rules surrounding medical cannabis, and others, which Health Canada fulfills. Licences for cannabis cultivation from Health Canada often include an expectation that license holders notify local authorities. However, this requirement is problematic because only some, but not all, licences for sites of cannabis production require notification to be provided to municipalities. In addition, the nature of the “requirement” itself would better be described as an “expectation,” as no communication is conveyed to the municipality that Health Canada has received an application, or provided approval, for sites of cannabis production to operate within the municipality. Within the Cannabis Licensing Application Guide, “notice to local authorities” is a requirement of only a fraction of prospective cannabis growers. Furthermore, there is currently no way for the “local authorities” to ascertain who has been granted a license by Health Canada who has not, leaving uncertainty as to who may be growing cannabis legally, and who may be growing cannabis illegally.
Specific to Kneehill County, anecdotal accounts have indicated that individuals within the County are growing cannabis in greater amounts than what is permitted under “recreational use,” as identified by the Cannabis Act. By consequence of the County not being effectively included in the approval process nor having reliable access to up-to-date information of what standards one is expected to abide by as a condition of one’s federal license, the County is left struggling to manage these sensitive activities that require effective government oversight. Specific issues that have arisen included suspected cannabis growing through inaccurate or disingenuous development applications, suspected alterations made to buildings that would not satisfy current building codes, and concern of criminal activity operating within the municipality’s borders. Without having information on who is permitted to grow cannabis and details pertaining to the quantities and other logistical information, the municipality can only attempt to manage from what is disclosed to them by cannabis growers voluntarily providing this information. Voluntary disclosure, however, is not the norm, which prompts Kneehill County to raise these concerns with other RMA members and with Health Canada.
In discussing the issues experienced within Kneehill County, specific details have been identified by the County as worthy of consideration for what specific site information would likely benefit all municipalities. These details include:
In conjunction with this resolution, two other resolutions pertaining to cannabis legislation have been identified as relevant to the issues proposed and remedies discussed. First, Personal Cannabis Production for Medical Use has been put forward by Wheatland County as an RMA resolution. This resolution seeks to include municipal governments in the approval process of growing cannabis for medicinal purposes by proposing that all municipalities “sign off” on the proposed Cannabis Production Facility as a prerequisite to receiving approval from Health Canada.
Second, Improving the Medical Cannabis Regime was a FCM resolution put forward by the Town of East Gwillimbury, Ontario, which sought to “propose amendments to the Cannabis Act that will remedy the problems experienced by municipalities.” These issues are wide-ranging but largely stem from the system of licensing and regulation put in place by the federal government to oversee the cannabis industry. Included in these issues is a lack of communication between Health Canada and municipalities, where advance notice to municipalities need not be required for planned growing activities, nor evidence provided that cannabis growers are compliant with local regulations, which has led to issues of non-compliance with zoning bylaws and failing to meet building codes within municipalities.
The resolution proposed here within aims to supplement each of these previous resolutions by expanding on the access to information made available to municipalities by Health Canada to a permanent form of access to information, and expand on the existing compliance monitoring taking place for currently-approved sites of cannabis production.
As a result of the issues identified, there is a profound need for Health Canada and the municipalities across Canada to create a more effective way for municipalities to access information on sites of cannabis production. Recognizing that individuals have a right to privacy, this resolution puts forward that only the information necessary to enforcing land-use regulations would be made available to municipalities to mitigate any concerns over personal, sensitive information. Furthermore, if all sites of cannabis production within a municipality were made available to the municipality, sites of illegal activity could be easily identified, and proper courses of action could be taken. As Canada contends with the effects of changes in federal drug policy, this resolution advocates for recognizing cannabis as a legalized substance, not deregulated. With this distinction comes the need for greater coordination among various branches of government to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals.
3-21S: Personal Cannabis Production for Medical Use
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta collaborate with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to advocate to Health Canada that confirmation of municipal compliance for personal medical cannabis production facilities be required for existing license holders, and prior to approval for all future license applicants.
Click here to view the full resolution.
Although RMA has not received an official response to this resolution from the federal Minister of Health, RMA staff have engaged Health Canada staff in discussions.
Based on conversations with Health Canada, RMA has clarified that there are requirements for licensees to notify municipalities when a license is obtained, however there is no mandate enforcing this requirement. RMA remains unsure on how Health Canada ensures requirements are met, however the RMA will continue to advocate to ensure municipalities are informed on the licenses approved in their area. RMA has informed Health Canada that some mechanism or framework needs to be established to communicate directly with municipalities, as they are directly impacted by operations. Further, RMA was made aware that inspector reports are available on the Health Canada website, however there is significant delay between the time of the investigation and the release of the report. RMA is advocating for an interim report to be sent directly to affected municipalities to ensure public safety, should these gaps not be resolved. Although these clarifications do not meet the intent of the resolution, Health Canada has acknowledged the challenges municipalities are experiencing and RMA will continue to advocate to have them properly addressed.
This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met.