Council denies cannabis producer’s bylaw exemption request
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Leviathan Cannabis threatened last week to initiate legal action against the Town of Pelham, in the wake of council’s May 21 decision not to grant the licensed pot producer an exemption to the Interim Control Bylaw (ICB), passed last autumn to allow the municipality time to establish specific regulations pertaining to cannabis growers.
“While this is yet another hurdle en route to building the company’s state-of-the-art cannabis greenhouse facility,” Leviathan said in a statement, “Leviathan’s management team is optimistic the Ontario Superior Court will right the wrong done to the company and its hundreds of stakeholders by the Pelham Town Council.”
The company’s Chief Communications Officer did not respond to a Voice request for comment.
The Town, for its part, declined detailed comment.
“It is the practice of the Town to not respond to the specifics of any threat of litigation,” wrote Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald in an email to the Voice. “We are confident that all actions of the Town are done in good faith and in the best interests of our constituents.”
Leviathan’s threat to take legal action comes as little surprise, given that the Toronto-based company had been promising litigation all along in the event they were rejected.
Either Town staff or council had also met with their own lawyers several times before last Tuesday’s decision. Additionally, it’s unlikely that any court case against the Town would be resolved—or possible even heard— before the expiration of the ICB on October 15.
Leviathan’s stock price on the TSX dropped nearly 25%—from 59 cents to 45 cents per share— on Thursday and Friday, the two days after the Pelham ruling.
As far as the vote itself went, council chose to go against its own staff recommendation—which endorsed Leviathan’s request.
Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens made her case for the staff report, which recommended granting the Toronto-based pot grower their exemption to go ahead and build their grow-op at the 770 Foss Road site. Wiens linked the fact that Pelham’s site control plans do not include greenhouses, with Leviathan’s exemption application.
“Because we want to put the Leviathan application under site plan control, we do need to amend the bylaw,” Wiens told council. “So it’s important to have that amendment go forward.”
She also appeared to answer critics of the staff report, saying it is the Town’s job to take applications on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re obligated to circulate and process that application and then present our recommendations to council, and then council can make its decision,” Wiens said.
The staff report was originally tabled in April, but council delayed a vote on it then so it could refer the report back to Town lawyers.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, council met in closed session to again receive legal opinion on the matter. When they returned to open session, Ward 1 councillors Mike Ciolfi and Marianne Stewart, and Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt all announced they would abstain due to a potential conflict of interest—although Ciolfi disagreed with that wording.
“This was not a conflict,” he told the Voice. “I just abstained for cautionary reasons due to a cannabis control petition that I signed earlier in the year that was circulated throughout the town.”
Hildebrandt and Stewart also signed the petition, circulated by the Pelham Community Preservation Coalition, and also opted to recuse themselves from the discussion and vote.
“Out of an abundance of caution I chose to recuse myself from the debate on this matter,” Hildebrandt said.
Down to only three councillors— Ward 2’s Ron Kore and John Wink, and Ward 3’s Lisa Haun— council unanimously voted against granting the exemption.
In an amendment, the same councilors also voted to include greenhouses in site control plans, which will ultimately mean more bureaucracy for those who grow vegetables, fruit or plants in their own greenhouses.
In terms of the ICB, in the end common sense appeared to win out, given that the purpose of a temporary regulation is to regulate something temporarily.
“I don’t understand making exceptions … when the bylaw is there for a reason,” Wink said.
“Absolutely,” Pelham Community Preservation Coalition member Jim Jeffs said when asked if he was happy with the outcome. Jeffs is also a member of the Town’s new Cannabis Control Committee, which was officially established at the same council meeting.
“Now the work begins,” Jeffs said, citing working with the Town to develop enforceable laws around cannabis production. That committee is set to meet for the first time on Wednesday night.
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