Burns Lake village council held a public hearing on Feb. 12 relating to proposed bylaw amendments that could lead to the growing of cannabis in some areas. (Blair McBride photo)

Residents raise concern over cannabis bylaw bid

Editor’s note: this story has been revised for clarity.

Burns Lake residents expressed concern over proposed bylaw amendments relating to cannabis at a village council meeting on Feb. 12.

The public was invited to comment on amendments to the Official Community Plan bylaw 970 2017 and zoning bylaw 880 2008.

The changes could simplify the bylaw by removing “medical” from its description, after recreational cannabis was legalized last October.

The amendments could also permit the growing of cannabis in heavy industrial zones.

The bylaw change bid was raised in a council meeting on Jan. 8, 2019.

READ MORE: Bylaw change might allow cannabis harvesting in village

Letters about the amendments were sent out to the Lake Babine Nation and Burns Lake First Nation, the RCMP, School District 91, Burns Lake Native Development Corporation (BLNDC) and the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN).

Chief Administrative Officer Sheryl Worthing said the RCMP had no comment and the BLNDC supports the amendments but the RDBN had some concerns.

In a letter to the council, Electoral Area B Director Michael Riis-Christianson, said “this amendment has the potential to negatively impact residents of Electoral Area B of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako. For this reason, it is imperative that any comments received from Electoral Area B residents during the Public Hearing process be given the same consideration as those received from village constituents.”

Worthing read out three letters submitted for the hearing as no members of the public were present at the meeting to speak about the amendments.

The family of Sara and James Kim, owners of the Wanakena Hotel on Highway 16 wrote in their letter that marijuana is addictive and leaves a bad smell in their hotel rooms when customers use it.

“Why make this plan in village boundary? Not anymore beautiful Burns Lake environmentally and spiritually. If the village started this project I can’t live here anymore,” they wrote.

In another letter, Pastor Ed Peters of the Island Gospel Fellowship Church wrote that even though he recognizes that cannabis is legal in Canada, it has a negative effect on communities and families.

“For instance the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has linked cannabis use among those under 25 years of age to hindered brain development, potential mental illness and potential addiction in the same range as alcohol. In light of the negative effects of marijuana on society as a whole we as ministers and as a community ask that the Village of Burns Lake reject the application for rezoning that would allow cannabis to be grown for commercial use in our community.“

Pastor John Neufeld of the Burns Lake Community Church also expressed criticism of cannabis in his letter and its impact “on a community as vulnerable as ours.”

“Throughout my 20 years in this community I’ve become aware of many lives harmed by drugs and alcohol. The result is often broken marriages and broken homes, with children born with FAS and large numbers of women and children subjected to abuse of all kinds. Marijuana alters a person’s mental state as does excessive use of alcohol and the number of problems resulting from an altered mental state will be bound to increase.”

“A grow-op in our community could give the appearance that leaders in our community are closing their eyes to the many lives that have been harmed and devastated by drugs and alcohol. Please consider saying no to permitting a business being established here,” Neufeld wrote.

After reading out the letters, Worthing pointed out that the hearing wasn’t about permitting any businesses to be established and “we’re just simply amending the wording in our bylaw to reflect what the legislation is.”

The council gave the proposed amendments – now named bylaws 991 2019 and 992 2019 – a third reading and will be added to the next agenda to consider for final adoption.

Speaking to Lakes District News, mayor Dolores Funk said, “The changes ensured that our zoning bylaw definitions accurately reflected the new Canadian legislation and that cannabis production would take place in the heavy industrial zone.”

The meeting was not the first time the subject of bylaw amendments linked to cannabis have caused dispute in Burns Lake.

At a public hearing held almost one year ago some people came out against a proposed medical cannabis facility in the former Burns Lake Specialty Woods (BSW) building on Moe Road near Decker Lake.

LOOK BACK: Burns Lake bylaw clears way for medical pot facility

The bylaw passage at that time allowed the growing of medical marijuana, after the company Nations Cannabis proposed setting one up in BSW, which is in an M2 heavy industrial zone.

Nations Cannabis has since further developed its business plan and seeks to open a growing facility at that site.

RELATED: Recreational weed goes legal across Canada

If bylaw amendments 991 2019 and 992 2019 pass the possibility of Rural Residential 1 (RR1) and Urban Reserve (UR) zones becoming sites for growing cannabis will be removed.

Most of the RR1 areas are around the Tahtsa Timber mill yard, down to Burns Lake and south of Highway 16. A smaller piece is just east of the Richmond Loop.

The UR zone is north of Highway 16 and east of the Blue Spruce Mobile Home Park and runs north up to Third Avenue.

The other M2 heavy industrial zone is on Roumieu Drive, south of Highway 16.

Blair McBride
Multimedia Reporter
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