Norfolk County is Canada’s top producer of numerous agricultural commodities.
With this track record and Norfolk’s reputation as “Ontario’s Garden,” it would surprise no one if the county eventually became Canada’s top producer of legal marijuana.
Norfolk council is facing the prospect with some trepidation.
Medicinal marijuana is already grown legally in numerous locations in Norfolk. As the industry intensifies, it is creating headaches by way of neighbourhood conflicts and incompatible land uses.
In response, Norfolk has struck a marijuana task force consisting of senior county staff and Health Canada officials. The group will table a report Jan. 9 on ways Norfolk can manage this growth with minimal disruption to surrounding neighbourhoods.
Senior planner Mat Vaughan is part of this task force. Tuesday, he told council that specifying marijuana as a particular land use would solve a lot of problems.
If this withstood a legal challenge, Norfolk could control the location of legal grow operations with minimum-distance setback provisions similar to those applied to livestock. The wild card here is no municipality in Ontario has ever identified a crop as a land use in its zoning bylaw.
There is a case for this approach. Rural residents of Norfolk have learned that marijuana is a pungent plant. A skunky aroma permeates the air around greenhouses where it is grown.
As the legal production of medicinal marijuana has spread, Norfolk council has heard increasing complaints about the smell, the noise from ventilating fans, the glare of grow lights, and the fears residents have about their property value.
“It’s great if they’re growing carrots,” Langton Coun. Roger Geysens told council Tuesday. “But marijuana? It’s the people affected by it that I’m worried about.”
These concerns were behind council’s refusal Tuesday to grant a severance to Nightingale Farms of LaSalette.
Several years ago, Bill Nightingale Jr. invested in a 2.9-acre greenhouse to grow organic cucumbers.