A cannabis cultivation facility coming to North Saanich will be using ‘best practices’ to ensure that security, noise, and odor won’t be an issue when they open.
“A lot of concerns are a little bit of hype, and they can all be easily dealt with,” said Cam McLennan, a partner in Rushco Properties. The company does not plan to grow cannabis itself. It instead plans to lease the former Claremont Poultry to commercial cannabis growers. The facility would not include a retail section. It stopped operating as a poultry farm in 1997 before Rushco Properties purchased it in 2018.
While the proposal has gained the initial support of North Saanich, several steps remain before cultivation can start. McLennan and his partners must submit stormwater management and agricultural liquid waste management plans. Council also tasked staff to review best practices in the Lower Mainland. Council will also have to review pending feedback from North Saanich’s agricultural and planning commissions with several more steps to come assuming positive feedback.
McLennan said cultivation could start as early as May 2020. “We have had some interest, and that is part of the reason, why we have decided to go down this road in the first place.” So how many people have shown interest? “I can’t say, unfortunately,” said McLennan.
This said, McLennan said he and his partners will hard to ensure that the facility is a good neighbour.
“As [property owners], we would tell any businesses coming in, that these are the rules, and if we have these problems, they need to be addressed,” he said. “We live here. I live right beside it with my three children. So if there are problems, it is going to affect me.”
North Saanich, he added, is a small, tight-knit community. “I know a lot of people out here and the last thing I want to do is come in here and create a stink.”
McLennan is hardly an unfamiliar figure in the region. The owner of a local landscaping company, McLennan sat on Sidney council from 2014 to 2018, and most recently ran in North Saanich’s byelection held in early 2019.
McLennan said he and one of his other partners, Rawleigh Rushfeldt, had been using the abandoned facility to store equipment, before deciding to purchase it.
McLennan said he and his partners opted against growing cannabis themselves because they lack the necessary knowledge. They would also be entering an industry with high start-up costs dominated by a handful of large growers. “We don’t have the capital,” he said.
But they do have a person familiar with municipal politics in the form of McLennan. He said that previous experience helps him and his partners understand the nature of the process.
“It can be very daunting for anyone, trying to get any sort of project off the ground, when you are working with a municipality. I definitely do have that knowledge, and it does help in certain ways [like understanding requests from staff].”
McLennan said reactions to his choice to enter the cannabis industry have been entirely positive. “Everyone says that’s great, that is awesome,” he said. “In regards to being a politician, it all comes down to the fact that this is a legal practice. Everybody says, ‘I wish, I had thought of this.’ It’s legal, it’s the law of land, and it might take some time, but people eventually get over the stigma of it.”
The proposal is not without its critics. Coun. Jack McClintock earlier this year voiced the biggest concerns in questioning whether the proposal is consistent with North Saanich’s strategic plan calling for a “safe and healthy community.” The harmful effects of marijuana are well-known, he said at the time, citing his experience of more than three decades in policing. McClintock also promised later that he would continue to lobby municipal governments, as well as the provincial government for ways to hold the cannabis industry responsible. Governments cannot afford to make the same mistake they made decades ago with tobacco, he said.
When asked about whether the cannabis industry should have to pay for addiction services, McLennan said cannabis already generates funding for such services through applicable taxes.
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