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Supreme Court orders SLRD to reinstate permit for medical marijuana farm

Court rules board unlawfully revoked building permit

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has been ordered by the Supreme Court of B.C. to reinstate or reissue a building permit to a Pemberton couple for their planned medical marijuana farm.

Martin Mullany and Eloise Eaton, the owners of a 55-hectare property in Pemberton, took the SLRD to court after the SLRD cancelled the building permit that allowed Mullany and Eaton to convert a building previously used as a riding arena and horse stable to grow medical marijuana as Bluevault Organic Marijuana. When the permit was applied for in 2014, growing medical marijuana was an allowed use under SLRD bylaw and Agricultural Land Reserve regulations.

"From the outset, the petitioners made their intentions clear to the SLRD," the judicial review, dated Sept. 19, 2019, states. The owners notified the SLRD that they planned to apply for a licence to grow medical marijuana, and notified them again when they applied to Health Canada, according to the decision.

The decision also shows the SLRD accepted the original application for a building permit in 2014 — although under the building bylaw, it was not required. An FOI request showed that a day after the SLRD building inspector and director of planning and development services were notified by staff of this, the SLRD sent a letter to the owners placing the permit application on hold until the owners provided construction drawings. ;

Shortly after the owners submitted those drawings, the SLRD adopted an amendment to the building bylaw to exclude medical marijuana production facilities, covered riding arenas and buildings over 800 metres from farm buildings — the definition that previously did not require a building permit, according to the review. Following this adoption, four of three similar applications in the SLRD for Health Canada medical marijuana production would be legally non-conforming.

Later in 2014, the SLRD also adopted a zoning bylaw that prohibited medical marijuana production on land less than 60 hectares. The application by Mullany and Eaton was on 55 hectares.

The owners received a letter in January 2018 stating the building permit would expire if no work was done for 12 months and the permit would not be renewed if a building inspection was not ordered by Dec. 17 of that year. In mid-June 2018, the owners told the building inspector they were continuing work and expected to be finished building by the permit's expiry date.

"On July 12, 2018, the SLRD revoked the building permit without any warning to the petitioners," the judicial review states.

A review of the permit file was triggered when a realtor contacted the SLRD, who then found there had been no contact with the building inspector after the January letter and the owners hadn't ordered any inspections.

By the time the permit was revoked, the owners had spent $400,000 on a consultant and around $2.8 million for an application to Health Canada for their company, Bluevault Organic Marijuana Ltd., according to the decision.

In the judicial review, the judge states that the letter sent in January 2018 "gives the impression that the petitioners have until December 17, 2018 to complete the work... There is nothing in the letter that requires an inspection before December 17, 2018."

The judge also noted Mullany had indicated to Norman Tong, the SLRD's chief building official, that the project would be finished by the December date.

"It seems unreasonable to take advantage of the lesser limitation, particularly in circumstances where there is less than six months to go on the ultimate limitation," [96] the decision reads, before stating, "the suddenness of the election to end the permit was unreasonable, particularly in light of the fact that Mr. Mullany said he was prepared to complete the project by the 17th of December, 2018."

The judge ordered that the SLRD declare the building permit was unlawfully revoked, issue, renew or reinstate the building permit and extend the time by six months after it is issued.

The SLRD told The Chief on Nov. 12, that this has been done.

This article originally appeared here.