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Willow Creek MPC okays medical marijuana operation near Claresholm

The MD of Willow Creek Municipal Planning Commission approved an intensive horticultural greenhouse for the production of marijuana for medicinal purposes at an existing greenhouse adjacent to the south end of Claresholm east of Highway 2.
The MPC reviewed the application July 16 from Custom Cannabis Inc.
J. Andrew Gaffney, chief executive officer for Custom Cannabis, provided an overview of the proposed operation.
In 2001, Canada became the first nation with a national medical marijuana law.
Once implemented, several problems arose including confidentiality; no notification given to RCMP or municipalities; no standards for the finished product; and much of the supply made it to the black market.
On June 10, 2013, Health Canada announced new regulations that came into effect April 1, 2014.
These regulations have detailed requirements regarding sales; security of the facility and storage of finished product; testing of products; and disposal and destruction of waste.
“Every aspect of the operation has to be submitted to Health Canada prior (to approval),” Gaffney said. “Our application weighed five pounds and filled up a three-inch binder.”
Common uses for medical marijuana include neuromuscular disorders such as childhood epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease; mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer Disease; chronic pain; cancer recovery; and much more.
The scope of work will include changes to the property to meet Health Canada requirements; upgrades to the electrical and HVAC systems; security upgrades; adding interior walls; vault installation; and the removal of some existing structures such as the tree storage area, outside storage lean-to structures; and sheds.
No additional structures being added.
“The footprint will remain as it is,” Gaffney said.
There are several reasons for a greenhouse.
Natural light is the best for growing providing full-spectrum lighting for better quality plants. It reduces the reliance on artificial lighting, lessening the environmental footprint.
The industry leaders in Israel and the Netherlands all use greenhouses, and greenhouses provide superior medicine.
The application was filed with Health Canada on May 1, and the approval process has several stages, each taking many months depending on the quality of the application.
Health Canada scrutinizes every aspect of the operation, requesting more information as they see fit.
“They’ve come back to us twice requesting additional information, which we’ve provided,” Gaffney said.
After Health Canada is satisfied with the application, it is sent to security clearance. Once security clearance is passed, a “letter to build” is issued, a final inspection is conducted after construction, and a licence is issued to start growing.
There are several security and safety requirements.
There must be a 10-foot security fence made up of eight feet of chain link with a two-foot barbed-wire overhang.
Gate entry and exits are monitored and recorded; only approved contractors are allowed on-site; and contractors will be verified on camera before being allowed access.
Security beams on fencing will be used to monitor tampering and unauthorized access.
There will be video surveillance monitoring for the entire interior and exterior 24/7.
That will include more than 40 infrared night-vision cameras; live monitoring done by a monitoring station; line monitoring to alert of any tampering of cameras; camera equipment housed in the vault; and all recordings are backed up off site for two years.
Metal security doors will be used throughout the facility with access controlled, and automatic door closers on all doors. Access to each part of the facility is controlled and recorded, and all doors are monitored by the security station for unauthorized entry.
A security clearance is required of all personnel, conducted by the RCMP in Ottawa, with all personnel and management required to submit finger prints and a detailed personal history. Detailed reports must also be kept and submitted to Health Canada quarterly to account for every gram of plant material grown, sold, or destroyed.
Storage will be in a pharmaceutical vault, with seven-inch thick concrete walls reinforced with rebar. It is located three feet from exterior walls to prevent drilling into the vault, with a two-foot inspection space surrounding all sides.
Seismic/vibration sensors will be inside the vault with 100 per cent interior and exterior motion sensor coverage. The door will be secured with 10 solid stainless steel one-inch diameter bolts, and a tamper-proof locking mechanism.
Only the person in charge and the quality assurance manager are allowed access to the vault.
All air leaving the facility will be scrubbed with carbon filters and ozone to eliminate odours, and HEPA filters will collect any particulate matter.
“The air leaving will be cleaner than the air coming in,” Gaffney said.
Water comes from the Town of Claresholm, so there will be no well water. Waste water will be returned to the sanitary sewer system. Plants will consume the vast majority of water on site, roughly one gallon per plant per day.
All cannabis clippings and waste must be stored in the vault until it is ready to be destroyed. No cannabis waste will be destroyed on site. Clippings and waste will be rendered inert and disposed of in the municipal landfill. Two authorized personnel must be present and sign off that the waste is destroyed according to protocol, and detailed records of amounts destroyed must be kept and submitted to Health Canada.
Traffic will be limited to staff and couriers, with six to eight staff on site.
Health Canada does not allow retail or over-the-counter sales of medical marijuana. All prescriptions must be delivered by electronically-tracked courier parcel.
Gaffney said each shipment has a 150-gram maximum.
No signage to indicate the nature of the site is allowed either, and visitors to the site will be very limited.
Coun. John Kroetsch asked if there will be security guards when no one is around.
“It’s not something that’s out of the realm of possibility,” Gaffney said, noting it is not a Health Canada requirement.
Gaffney will work with the RCMP on a security response.
“No facilities in Canada have been broken into yet,” Custom Cannabis chief operations officer Justin Brown said.
Jeff Gibeau, the acting chief administrative officer and manager of regulatory and property services for the Town of Claresholm, was also present to provide the town’s input.
Gibeau noted it is in the MD of Willow Creek but borders the town.
Gibeau also said the land use district is inconsistent with the use and the MD of Willow Creek has other districts more suitable for the proposal.
Gibeau said although the proposal is being presented as an intensive horticultural operation, the magnitude of security and surveillance differentiate this operation from the greenhouse use that currently exists.
Gibeau went on to say the application has little information regarding vehicular access, parking, and loading; screening and landscaping; and surface drainage.
Gibeau pointed out the town has worked hard to upgrade the visual aesthetic of all properties that border or front on the highway corridor by implementing specific landscaping and requirements.
Improvements on the property are connected to the town’s municipal water and sanitary sewer systems and the intensity of water use and the intensity of waste discharge are concerns.
Finally, the notice of the meeting was circulated to the town’s administration office, but not the ratepayers who own property directly adjacent to the proposed development.
MD of Willow Creek development assistant Cindy Chisholm responded that the M.D. did not have the addresses to send letters to each affected ratepayer in the town.
It was noted the current greenhouse rarely exceeded its water allocation from the town.
Brown added the operation has to be lined so there will be no leakage into the drainage system.
MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti asked if the facility will be lit up at night.
Gaffney said all cameras are night vision so they can record in pitch black, and there will be no light pollution at night.
Coun. Glen Alm asked if the MD of Willow Creek could put conditions on the approval to meet the town’s regulations regarding aesthetics on the highway.
MD of Willow Creek planner Mike Burla responded a development agreement could include some of those guidelines.
“We’re not planning on turning this site into an industrial site,” Gaffney said. “We don’t want it to be an eyesore.”
The MPC went into closed session to discuss the application.
When it reverted to open session, the MPC unanimously approved the application.