“Normal farm practices” being tested
Pelham CAO David Cribbs has confirmed that a Town delegation participated in a formal Zoom teleconference in late January with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as part of the Town’s advocacy work involving the cannabis issue.
The Town’s delegation consisted of Mayor Marvin Junkin, Councillor Wayne Olson, and the CAO. Present on behalf of the Province of Ontario were Parliamentary Assistant Randy Pettapiece and MPP Sam Oosterhoff, plus other senior civil servants.
The topic of discussion was the operation of the province’s Normal Farm Practice Protection Board. The Town made a number of submissions regarding modifying existing regulations so as to ensure that cannabis companies cannot argue they have “normal farm practices” (since it has not previously been legal to farm the crop) that must be accommodated or permitted.
The Pelham delegation asserted that the crop is qualitatively different from other agricultural commodities, with an odour profile that is aggravating to local residents. The Town argued that municipal bylaws which apply to odour should be applicable to cannabis operations, even if they generally do not apply to traditional agricultural operations.
Cribbs said that a positive relationship between the Town and MPP Oosterhoff has provided connections to provincial cabinet ministers to address cannabis regulation, although to date none of these contacts had resulted in changes to provincial regulations or administrative practices.
Mayor Marvin Junkin commented that, “If these [cannabis] facilities were indeed livestock farms causing so much public angst, I have no doubt that they would be feeling the weight of government regulation. It is a common saying that ‘Your best industry is the one you don’t notice.’”
The overarching question is whether municipal bylaws regulating cannabis restrict “normal farm practices” under the provincial Farming and Food Production Protection Act (FFPPA) and conflict with the federal Cannabis Act.
Such a scenario is currently playing out north of Smiths Falls, Ontario, where Burnstown Farms Cannabis Company (BFCC) is engaged with Beckwith Township in hearings before the Normal Farm Practise Protection Board.
In 2019, BFCC applied for a federal license under the Cannabis Act to cultivate and produce cannabis on a farm in Beckwith Township. The Township has a bylaw that restricts operations on agricultural land to “normal farm practices” as defined in the Farming and Food Production Protection Act. FFPPA protects farmers from nuisance complaints arising from odour, noise and dust.
BFCC is arguing that the Township’s bylaw restricts the proposed use of the farm to cultivate and produce cannabis as permitted with a federal licence under the Cannabis Act. A decision has not yet been rendered.
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