Fighting the proliferation of marijuana greenhouses has proven to be an expensive venture for East Gwillimbury.
As the town waits to battle growers over zoning offences in provincial court, it has already amassed legal fees over $100,000.
In a staff report to council earlier this year, the legal fees amassed so far in the fight are slightly more than $123,000.
While that is expensive, Mayor Virginia Hackson said council is doing what it thinks is best for its residents.
“A lot of municipalities don’t have the dollars to stand strong against them,” Hackson said. “Fortunately for us we are a debt-free municipality and we have the ability to pay it.”
Ward 3 Coun. Scott Crone said he knew the court route could get expensive for the town, but he said they were left with little choice after marijuana greenhouses started popping up all around the rural areas of East Gwillimbury last year. “This could cost us $250,000,” he said. “But it’s to protect our residents.”
Last year, the town passed an interim control bylaw restricting the development of cannabis production facilities outside of industrial zoned areas for one year as it evaluated the situation. This was after the town used four cease-and-desist notices, three orders to comply and two stop work orders.
The town has filed four restraining orders against growers in the Ontario Superior Court seeking the halt to production in areas prohibited by the town’s zoning bylaw.
The town is also prosecuting charges in provincial court against nine growers who have been charged with producing cannabis in areas of the town where production is prohibited.
But, according to a town report, the courts have been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the matters are still waiting to be heard. “We are patiently waiting,” Hackson said.
The town’s strong stance has stopped more growers from attempting to set up shop in East Gwillimbury, Hackson said. “They know that East Gwillimbury is not a friendly place for them to do business,” she said.
Growers are fighting back against the town. Three production sites have commenced proceedings against the town under the Farming and Food Production Protection Act. The purpose of the FFPPA is to protect farmers from nuisance complaints. According to the town, the growers are asking the board to rule that cannabis production is a normal farm practice that has been restricted by the town’s zoning bylaw in contravention of the FFPPA.
As things get set to be hashed out in court, Crone said he receives calls all the time from residents about the issue. “They are watching everything that is going on,” he said.