Regional politicians ‘need guidance’ on minimum setbacks from pot producers

There are more than a dozen pot producers spread across Southwestern Ontario and some of them stink.

Judy Krall, deputy mayor of Enniskillen Township, stands in the lobby of the Lambton County building in Wyoming where she spoke to county councillors about the township's call for Health Canada to set minimum setback distances for marijuana growing operations. (Paul Morden/Postmedia Network)

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There are more than a dozen pot producers spread across Southwestern Ontario and some of them stink.

Trevor Brand, a cash-crop farmer near Petrolia, lives fewer than 100 metres from cannabis grower High Park Company. The smell at times, Brand says, is unbelievable.

“It smells like you ran over a skunk and now it lives with you in the house. It’s in your vehicles. It’s in my farm equipment,” Brand said Friday. “It’s unbelievable. Everything just stinks like a skunk.”

Foul odours aren’t the only issue he has. Truck and employee traffic, lights, and sounds coming from diesel generators and pumps have been a nuisance, Brand said.

“It was basically like having a lawnmower running outside your front window all day,” he said.

Enniskillen farmers Cathy Brand, left, and son Trevor Brand, right, stand on the family farmhouse front lawn less than 50 metres from a cannabis greenhouse facility they say has turned their rural lives upside-down. Louis Pin/The Observer

Judy Krall, deputy mayor of Enniskillen Township, the home to the Brand farm and High Park, has been fielding complaints since the former pepper farm was converted into a cannabis operation just more than two years ago. Pot is being produced across the country but, based on what Krall heard at a recent Cannabis Host Communities Network meeting, it causes more headaches in agricultural areas versus industrial regions.

Which makes it a real problem in farm-rich Southwestern Ontario. The best solution would be implementing minimum setbacks from producers, Krall said.

The problem, she said, is municipalities have no teeth to introduce those types of bylaws and, so far, haven’t been told by the province or the feds how to handle this topic.

“We need guidance,” she said.

Krall said she’s written a letter, passed as a resolution by her local county council and the Ontario agricultural federation, to Health Minister Patty Hajdu calling for minimum distance separations.

“I haven’t heard anything back from the minister,” she said.

Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge, a Health Canada spokesperson, said Friday zoning rules for cannabis-based businesses are established by provinces and territories.

Brand said he’s contacted Ontario’s ministers of agriculture, health and the environment along with Health Canada – “I’ve talked to everybody and their brother” – but no one takes ownership.

“It doesn’t matter who you talk to: ‘Not my problem, I can’t help you,’” he said. “It’s just a big circle.”

Officials from the Ontario ministries of the environment, municipal affairs and housing, and agriculture, food and rural affairs did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

A High Park spokesperson said Friday they’ve taken “extensive action” to address issues raised by their neighbours at the Enniskillen operation. They include blackout curtains, noise barriers, enclosed propagation and vegetative houses, odour cannons and carbon-air filtration systems.

“They were an absolute joke,” Brand said of the filtration systems. “They didn’t do anything.”

Most of the measures go above and beyond Health Canada’s regulatory requirements, the High Park spokesperson noted.

Krall said she’s not opposed to the pot industry, but wants to keep producers away from sensitive areas such as schools, houses and parks. She hopes her resolution will help achieve that goal.

“I’m only one little voice,” she said. “A lot of people think the idea will go nowhere, but if you don’t try – if you sit on your hands nothing’s going to happen. So that’s my whole push.”