Some B.C. cities are vowing to do what they can to uproot licensed medical marijuana grow operations in homes that will become illegal this spring as federally approved large-scale commercial growers take over.
As of April 1, an estimated 11,500 B.C. medical marijuana grow operations that have been run by or on behalf of federally licensed users are supposed to shut down voluntarily but civic leaders say Health Canada is doing almost nothing to force them to comply.
“It’s an absolute gong show,” Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said. “They’re keeping cities completely in the dark as to what they plan to do to fix this mess.”
Abbotsford, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and some other cities that have identified some medical marijuana grows – through safety inspections or police raids that were called off when they turned out to be licensed – plan to take steps to ensure they shut down.
Banman said Abbotsford is aware of approximately 100 currently legal grows and Abbotsford Police will likely follow up with them in the spring, but added there are at least 700 more at unknown locations that Health Canada won’t disclose.
Surrey has for years used fire safety inspection teams to root out illegal pot grow ops, usually targeted based on excessive power consumption or neighbourhood complaints.
Deputy fire chief Dan Barnscher said Surrey’s teams have uncovered nearly 300 licensed medical grows, most of them in the past two years.
As in Abbotsford, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – Surrey has learned through Access to Information requests that the city is home to nearly 900 medical pot grows that are soon to become illegal.
“There’s an expectation they will be doing a complete cleanup and remediation of their property,” Barnscher said. “We’re going to give them a timeline to do that. We’re not going to show up on April 1 or 2nd.”
He said remediation work must be verified by a city-approved industrial hygenist and restoration professional to ensure they don’t leave behind an electrical fire trap or dangerous mould for future residents.
Barnscher concedes there’s nothing to stop those licensed growers from moving to elude authorities, but added they will no longer have Health Canada protection if the grow-op is found again in Surrey at a new location.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said his staff will soon pull together an action plan to respond to the estimated 600 to 700 medical pot grows in his city.
“I don’t know how realistic it is to expect those people to voluntarily shut down and start ordering it legally from Pete’s Pothouse,” Daykin said.
Cities are also wary of recently launched legal action.
Medical marijuana users hope a constitutional challenge launched by Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy will strike down part of the new federal regulations on medical marijuana or at least force an extension of the April 1 deadline while the case is before the courts.
Conroy’s application to exempt or grandfather in existing holders of personal production or designated grower licences is expected to be heard in early February.
Users fear it will cost them much more to buy from authorized commercial sellers than it has to grow their own.
Saskatoon-based CanniMed, one of the first producers to be licensed and begin shipments, is selling its medical pot for $7.50 to $12 per gram.
Lower Mainland cities have taken varied approaches on where they will allow new approved growers to set up highly regulated, secure medical pot growing operations.
Maple Ridge is allowing them only in agricultural areas, while Delta, Langley Abbotsford and Kelowna are opposing medical pot as an allowed use on farmland.