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Skeptical reception for cannabis exemption

Councillors Lisa Haun, Ron Kore, and Mike Ciolfi listen to Leviathan CEO Martin Doane. TOWN OF PELHAM VIDEO CAPTURE

 

BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE

We’re not like the others.

That was the gist of the message last Monday night from Leviathan CEO Martin Doane to a special public meeting of Pelham Town Council under the Planning Act. The Toronto-based cannabis producer is challenging the Town’s Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) to allow expedited expansion of its facility at 770 Foss Road, in Fenwick, to a 146,000 sq. ft. operation.

While not calling out local competitors CannTrust or Redecan by name, Doane touted Leviathan’s plans for a near-airtight facility that would, he asserted, all but eliminate odor emissions into the surrounding area.

“I can’t tell you about the other facilities,” Doane told the meeting, which drew close to 300 residents to the community centre. “I’m surprised that we’ve got this kind of response for a facility that will have no odor, but the bad actors, so to speak, continue to do what they’re doing. We seem to be bearing the brunt with the past history of difficulties.”

The response comes from Leviathan’s challenging of the ICBL, which, if the company has its way, will allow it to commence work on the new project in the summer construction months, ahead of the current ICBL’s expiration date in October.

Leviathan’s CEO Martin Doane, Chief Communications Officer Jayne Beckwith, and Head of Marketing Luvlina Sanghera. TOWN OF PELHAM VIDEO CAPTURE

“Unlike others … we will be deploying state-of-art technology that completely mitigates any odor problem through the implementation of a totally sealed greenhouse system,” Doane said. “It’s much more like a building with a skylight, than it is a conventional greenhouse.”

Doane said Leviathan’s plans include constructing a new facility from the ground up, as opposed to using the original cucumber greenhouse the company inherited upon its purchase of Woodstock BioMed in May 2018.

He cited technology that allegedly reduces emissions to 0.01 percent of facility air, thanks to charcoal filtering and internal air locks.

Other facilities, Doane implied, simply use a retrofitted greenhouse, which is naturally porous.

Still, skeptics had questions.

Engineer Bill Heska, a Pelham resident, challenged Leviathan’s contracted lead engineer, Matt Hotrum of Ehvert, on the exhausted air from the proposed facility in terms of cubic feet per minute (CFM). Hotrum admitted he did not have those exact numbers on hand.

“There’s no proof whatsoever,” Pelham Community Preservation Coalition head Jim Jeffs told the Voice afterward, in regard to Leviathan’s promise that odor emissions will be limited.

Doane addressed light complaints by saying that night curtains and timed lighting will mitigate what one area resident compared to “alien spaceships coming down.”

He also asserted that the traffic produced by the proposed facility would actually be less than the previous vegetable greenhouse.

“You don’t need to big tractor-trailers to transport tens of thousands of dollars worth of cannabis,” he said, pointing out that most of the product is moved out from the facility in cube vans.

In response to nearby residents’ concerns about a potential decrease in property values, Doane cited statistics from Smiths Falls, Ontario, where he says local property values increased 13 percent from 2017 to 2018 after the opening of a cannabis facility, with overall transactions going up by 20 percent. Proximity to the specific facility was not clarified.

Doane also referenced polling from Leviathan that indicated 46 percent of Pelham residents wouldn’t oppose a properly-constructed and regulated licensed grow-op, with 15 percent of respondents indifferent. He cited a similar poll done previously by the Voice as “completely unscientific.”

Other locals brought up the very fact that Leviathan is challenging the interim bylaw — which expires in October — as reason to be concerned. The bylaw, as intended, was to allow the municipality to take a step back and analyze the rapidly-growing cannabis industry’s place — including issues such as taxation — in the community.

“Why would we approve an exemption to the moratorium before [Town Council] completes the important work?” resident Tim Nohara asked Doane, prefacing that municipal bureaucracy can often convolute things like the erection of a flagpole.

Doane replied that it’s unfair that Leviathan’s expansion plans are being held back by the ICBL.

“When you put up a flagpole and have it delayed,” Doane told Nohara, “you may have it delayed, but it doesn’t cost $100 million. So when you have an ICBL that has no report behind it, and has people canvassing for reelection and slamming down an ICBL … that’s the legal issue.”

Earlier, Doane said there’s “no pause” in the Canadian cannabis industry at the present time, adding that delays due to regulatory issues are costing companies like his millions of dollars a week. He added that Pelham’s ICBL was unfair to Leviathan because his company has played by the rules.

“We couldn’t be more empathetic to the concerns of the community…we’re with you,” Doane said. “And this ICBL is perverse in a sense, because…the hundreds of people here tonight have legitimate complaints about what’s going on, but your complaint isn’t with us. From day one, we’ve intended, and will execute, in delivering a fundamentally different solution.”

He added, “Our plan…is to contribute tens of millions of dollars more to the local economy, while obeying all regulations…and being the best possible neighbour that we can be in the circumstances.”

The municipal taxation code on agricultural properties — which pay substantially lower taxes than industrial properties —is likely one reason that Leviathan wants to find an amendment to the ICBL, as opposed to waiting for the Town to come up with a long-term plan for cannabis producers.

“The taxation issue is clearly an irritant for towns like Pelham, and we empathize,” Doane said. “But we’re not the author of that.”

Mayor Marvin Junkin has called the rapid growth of the cannabis industry in Pelham “a double-edged sword.” He’s asked that licensed producers be better corporate citizens, cognizant of the positive economic impacts of a new and growing industry.

Yet at the end of last Monday’s meeting, Doane told councilors in a Q&A session that the Canadian wholesale cannabis market was now “lower than we thought it would be” and that Leviathan’s view of the Canadian market has “changed substantially” over the past year.

Council could have a decision on the amendment proposal at its meeting on March 18, but more likely later.

 

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