Oro-Medonte Township’s plans to control or restrict cannabis operations have gone up in smoke.
The province’s land tribunal has struck down the township’s proposed bylaw amendment to regulate cannabis production and processing facilities.
The township sought to restrict operations to land zoned industrial, prompting cannabis companies to launch an appeal. In the Jan. 25 decision, Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) member Jatinder Bhullar ultimately found the amendment does not conform with the provincial growth plan to encourage and support the agriculture sector.
The January decision was one of three before the tribunal.
Carmel Pharms Corp., located on Line 7 South, about halfway between Barrie and Orillia, earlier reached a “site-specific settlement” with the township, which the tribunal endorsed and found to represent “good land-use planning in the context of a farming operation that was in operation already.”
Last month’s decision involved appeals filed by two numbered companies, 2541005 Ontario Ltd., with an operation adjacent to the Shanty Bay settlement area, and 10982 Ontario Ltd., which intended to launch a business called Organibis on nearly 13 acres along Ridge Road.
Bobby Vakili, representing 10982 Ontario Ltd./Organibis Inc., said the tribunal's decision is likely the first of its kind and is bound to set the tone for other municipalities dealing with cannabis operations in the future.
“This is kind of, I would say, precedent-setting in terms of how cannabis needs to be approached in agricultural/rural zoned land and how it should be permitted,” he said.
The 10982 Ontario Ltd./Organibis plan was the only one of the three companies that had not yet been developed. The township’s bylaw amendment would have blocked the business from launching had the township been successful.
The company can now look at moving ahead with its plans to develop a growing facility on the property it purchased in 2018, Vakili added.
“From the start, it was receiving mixed messages. ‘Oh you can do it,’ then, ‘You can’t,’” he said of the original plan to develop the land into a processing facility with an attached greenhouse.
Its development was originally frozen by an interim control bylaw followed by the amendment.
“As this case unfolded, it became apparent that this was a highly politically charged issue in the township,” added Vakili. “I appreciate that the normalization of the legalization of cannabis ... will take some time, in that there’s still significant stigma around cannabis. But planning decisions can’t be made based on the stigma around a new legalized crop such as cannabis.”
The tribunal found the township’s amendment failed because it removed the specific crop of cannabis and industrial hemp from agricultural/rural use land. Meanwhile, the 2020 provincial policy statement requires all types of agricultural use to be promoted and protected in prime agricultural areas.
The amendment, the tribunal found, neither promotes nor protects normal farm practices.
“The tribunal reiterates and finds that any separation distance requirements from sensitive land uses fundamentally offends any level of consistency with the PPS (Provincial Policy Statement) 2020 policies,” tribunal member Jatinder Bhullar wrote.
He concludes that the township’s attempt to control cannabis companies was not consistent with the PPS and growth plan, as well as the township and County of Simcoe Official Plans, and did not meet statutory tests.
Oro-Medonte Township officials are expected to discuss the decision at its council meeting on Wednesday and provided no comment for this article.