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Canada Metro Vancouver exploring new regulations to reduce stench of industrial cannabis operations

Part of cannabis laws and regulations

The regional body that governs air quality in and around Vancouver is exploring new regulations that would reduce the stench from industrial-scale cannabis farms and the plant’s volatile organic compounds that can lead to spikes in ground-level ozone, which increases smog.

On Friday, Metro Vancouver’s board, whose 40 directors represent almost two dozen local communities, voted to have staff start consultations with the cannabis industry and other stakeholders and draft regulations to govern these emissions, a process expected to take until the end of this year or into next.

Roger Quan, Metro Vancouver’s director of air quality and climate change, said his organization is also concerned about the odour of the volatile organic compounds (VOC) these farms create during their flowering and harvesting periods. The compounds, known as terpenes, in cannabis, but present in other industries, react with nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere and sunlight to form ozone, which causes air pollution and can hurt people with respiratory problems, he said.

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“During the summertime, where we see the discoloured haze, … a lot of that is from ozone," he said. “In the past, we had summers where we issued quite a few advisories about ozone levels exceeding the Canadian standards."

The amount of such compounds in Metro Vancouver has been tempered in recent years, Mr. Quan said, by raising vehicle emission standards and the reduction of local oil refineries from four locations to one. Although Metro Vancouver is not tracking VOC emissions from the cannabis industry, he said the increasing number of large cannabis farms – of which there are about a dozen – is becoming a concern.

In the past 12 months, 326 complaints have been received about the skunky scent of cannabis or the sprays companies use to mask the aroma, most of the complaints are from Langley, Delta and Maple Ridge – municipalities with cannabis farms.

Metro Vancouver staff said 256 of these complaints related to Canopy Growth Corp.’s facility in the Township of Langley, which is one of the world’s largest grow operations. Mr. Quan said that farm, a retrofitted vegetable greenhouse, was using spray cannons of a mist-like substance that smelled like Febreze to mask the scent of the cannabis being grown.

Aly-Khan Virani​, a spokesperson for Canopy Growth, denied that the company used “masking agents” at the facility, noting it has “technology that’s designed to remove the odour from the air around the facility” as well as carbon and other high-efficiency particulate air filters.

"We’ve listened to residents, we take their concerns seriously and intend on continuing to work with them and Metro Vancouver to find solutions to address any further issues," he noted in an e-mailed statement.

Mr. Quan said retrofitted facilities seem to have more problems with emissions compared to purpose-built sites.

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Allan Rewak, executive director of the industry lobby group Cannabis Council of Canada, said cannabis companies do not want to anger their neighbours, and the sector is looking forward to working with Metro Vancouver to solve this issue.

The initial Metro Vancouver staff report on regulating emissions, which the board received on Friday, suggests it issue permits for the largest farms that require them to have systems that properly capture the odours and filter the VOCs so that they do not escape these greenhouses.

On Friday, the board also voted to send a letter to Health Canada requesting that it “actively enforce” its own rules around odour control at these greenhouses. Mr. Quan said these federal rules state only that a licensed cannabis producer must have effective air filtration systems that prevent the escape of odours, but don’t qualify explain how companies should achieve that standard.

Mr. Quan said that Metro Vancouver may be the first municipal agency in Canada to craft cannabis emissions standards, but U.S. states such as Nevada and Washington have effective regimes.

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