Niagara is finally moving forward with a collaborative initiative to tackle cannabis-growing matters.

At the most recent Planning and Economic Development Committee, I passed a motion to establish a workshop to engage local planning staff, municipal Councillors and legal representation with the hope of identifying relevant zoning and bylaw regulations that can address cannabis-growing concerns.

These facilities have been a source of great frustration, not just for Pelham, but most of Niagara’s municipalities, since they were given the green light.

The problem is that the “full steam ahead” approach in opening this industry lacked the foresight as to how these facilities impact our communities and our residents. As a result, municipalities have been left unprepared and uninformed about how they can respond. In other words, we’re in reaction mode. It’s not a great place to be.

Pelham has been quite active in responding to cannabis concerns. We have a Cannabis Control Committee, an interim control by-law and draft by-laws currently in development. Niagara’s other municipalities will be watching with interest in how we adapt, hoping to avoid the growing pains we will undoubtedly experience moving forward on our own.

Hence lies the problem. We’re all dealing with grow facilities, but we’re going at it alone. And operating in silos on this issue will not help attain meaningful action.

The workshop itself will address a number of items. First, it will provide a venue for municipal planners and Councillors to have a dialogue on the issues facing their municipalities. This will allow a debriefing on the experiences we have had and provide an opportunity for clarity and education.

Second, it can help us identify the tools available to us. What’s in our municipal toolbox? What are the zoning and bylaw regulations available? How have other municipalities adapted to this sector? Let’s not reinvent the wheel if we don’t have to.

Third, and this is a big one, it can help us identify the shortfalls of provincial and federal policy. There is so much of this sector that is beyond our control. If we can collaborate and communicate a united front on important policy changes, we need to do so. We have far more influence over a provincial or federal policy when we speak with one voice. And more importantly, there’s a willingness to do so!

There’s many reasons why we need to talk about cannabis at the regional level. Residents are concerned about the odour, the proximity to their homes and subsequently their home values. These facilities should locate in appropriate areas. We need a plan to ensure that they do so.

But we also need to preserve and protect our agricultural assets. Niagara’s tender fruit growing lands are unique. We have growing conditions here that do not exist anywhere else in the world. The Niagara Peninsula produces more than 94% of Ontario’s grapes, 90% of its peaches, nectarines and apricots, 80% of its plums, 75% of its sweet cherries and much, much more. Pelham itself grows peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, pears, plums and berries (Is there anything better than a Niagara peach?). Once we lose these important agricultural assets, they’re gone forever.  Let’s not pave them over to erect a greenhouse.

A regional workshop can help identify and develop land planning policies that attain just that, the preservation and protection of our tender fruit lands while identifying locations that are suitable for cannabis-grow facilities.

It’s not about how we react to this industry, it’s about how we prepare for our future.  And a future where we collaborate and cooperate on our shared municipal interests, identify appropriate areas for greenhouse facilities, minimize the concerns of our residents, and protect and preserve our tender fruit lands just makes sense.