Every night, the sky over Kingsville, Ont., fills with eerily bright orange and purple lights. The sight brings to mind descending alien spaceships, but their origins are actually a little closer to home: nearby greenhouses growing fruits, vegetables and cannabis.
The bordering-on-daylight glow in the southern Ontario town has birds confused, some locals upset, and the town council trying to balance rezoning applications with residents’ concerns as more and more growers seek to move in.
The region’s warmer than average semi-continental climate is a big draw for big-name licensed producers such as Aphria (whose greenhouse LED lights are among those colouring the clouds purple in Kingsville and nearby Leamington) and medical personal-use grow operations.
“We are in favour of the benefits the industry brings to the community,” Kingsville resident Nigel Lucas tells Lift & Co. “But the lights can give the effect of the northern lights, where the midnight sun never sets.”
Lucas, who lives near a greenhouse, says he can read by the light at midnight and that “streetlights are obsolete.”
The corner of Grandview and Houston Avenues in Kingsville, Ont., shot around 2 a.m. (All photos by Nasuna Stuart-Ulin @nasunaphoto)
Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told Lift & Co. the powerful greenhouse lights and smells have been an issue for at least three years. Essex County, where Kingsville is located, already boasts the highest concentration of greenhouses in North America. While these businesses provide many jobs, hundreds of residents have been turning up at town meetings to argue against new greenhouses moving in.
In response, Kingsville implemented bylaws ensuring new commercial developments and streetlamps have lights facing downwards instead of up, but these new rules can’t be retroactively applied to greenhouses that existed before the laws came into effect.
In their defence, some growers are experimenting with more suburb-friendly lighting systems.
“Kingsville identified four growers who started to experiment with these grow lights,” says Santos. “Their concentration is focused internally in terms of reflection.”
According to Santos, two out of the three licensed cannabis producers currently utilizing strong upward-facing lights have started voluntarily using curtains to block out some of the light.
So why are there still so many of these light beams above Kingsville?
The problem isn’t just big industrial greenhouses, says Santos. It’s individuals who are registered with Health Canada to grow a limited amount of their own cannabis for medical purposes. These greenhouses sometimes house dozens of plants, with up to four registrations allowed to grow at the same location.
Individual growers aren’t subject to the same rules as major licensed producers. Individuals must abide by the rules set out in the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which requires setting up perimeter security and adequate ventilation, but no provisions against light pollution. As of Oct. 17, the ACMPR was repealed and licences now fall under the Cannabis Act.
The town is aware of at least half a dozen of these types of greenhouses (though growers are under no obligation to inform the municipality), in part because new ones are required to install fencing and security.
“You can’t miss it,” says Santos, who recalls one barbed wire fence going up in the middle of a residential area, right at the entry to Kingsville. “It looked like you were entering a penitentiary, a total compound all the way around.”
On the flip side, these spectacular lights certainly make for a great photo.
“We’d just driven 12 hours from Montreal, but when we got there at 2 a.m. we just had to keep driving around town taking pictures,” says photographer Nasuna Stuart-Ulin. She describes what looked like spaceships hovering above them. “It felt like a scene from The X-Files.”
Santos says these licensed growers “can pop up anywhere” as long as they have federal permission, “whether it’s residential, or near schools, libraries, daycares.” This applies to indoor production only — an outdoors growing site cannnot be located “adjacent to a school, public playground, daycare or other public place mainly frequented by children,” according to Health Canada.
“The federal government has granted them full immunity from any municipal zoning or bylaw,” says Santos, who’s in the process of trying to lobby for more restrictions for personal medical growers. “There’s no control for smell that we can put on them, no control for lighting. And they’re one of the biggest abusers for lighting, even though they’re smaller scale. But their impact is great.”