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Bylaw will limit pot production to one facility in Whistler

Public hearing will be scheduled before bylaw approval

Whistler is taking steps to curb a potential proliferation of medical marijuana facilities in the resort on the eve of nationwide changes to the system.

On Tuesday council started the process of approving a new zoning amendment bylaw that will limit medical marijuana production to the existing facility in Function Junction.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said in all her years at the council table, she never expected to see a bylaw like this up for consideration.

"Never in my dreams did I think we'd be passing a zoning amendment bylaw for medical marijuana production," she said.

The zoning amendment bylaw will now define "marihuana production" and "marihuana distribution" and limit that to the existing facility "provided that the total amount of building floor area used for all such uses shall not exceed 560 square metres."

The move comes as Canada prepares for a major overhaul of the system. On April 1, medical marijuana will no longer be grown in homes. Instead, regulated commercial licensed producers, like the Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp. will grow and distribute it for medical purposes.

Just over a year ago, that company's founder Chris Pelz notified the municipality, the Fire Chief and the RCMP of his intention to get a medical marijuana license for his warehouse space in Function Junction, as permitted in the IL2 zone along with nursery or greenhouse.

In February, Pelz received his license from Health Canada — the ninth licensed commercial company in Canada.

He was pleased with council's direction to entrench his use in the zoning bylaw.

"I feel some pride that this tremendous risk that I've taken has paid off," said Pelz.

"Considering the fact that Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp was granted a Health Canada production license in advance of RMOW finalizing zoning bylaws relating to medical marijuana production, I am pleased that the WMMC location is being recognized under the proposed bylaw amendment."

When asked why council is proposing a zoning amendment bylaw to limit the number of medical facilities to one, Wilhelm-Morden said:

"Well I can't speak for the other members of council, but from my own perspective it's just continuing to be a safety issue to my mind. Until marijuana is legalized there's a safety concern."

Planning analyst Kevin Creery, who presented the report to council on Tuesday, said no retail sales are permitted on site; there will be no walk-up sales.

Council raised some concerns. Councillor Andrée Janyk asked about the concerns she's heard of the intermittent electricity in Function. Creery assured that the grid system was upgraded to allow the business to operate.

Councillor John Grills also expressed concerns about the municipality's controls over the air filter system.

"The system was just built recently," said Creery adding that the license holder must comply with the federal security and odour control requirements.

In his report to council Creery also stated:

"It is important to note that where the Municipality is aware, or made aware, of personal medical marihuana grow operations that are not compliant with the law and/or a public safety concern, that immediate action will be undertaken to ensure that remediation is made and/or the operation is ceased."

There will be a public hearing on the zoning amendment bylaw before it goes to council for final approvals.

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