A Sunday afternoon press conference in the training room of Maple Ridge's main fire hall saw changes announced that could put the kibosh on people growing medical marijuana at home by spring 2014.
Under the guise of being legal, there are many pot growing homes around Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows - and likewise across the country - that must be banned, Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq told a room of media, local politicians, as well as police officers and fire officials.
The number of Health Canada approved growers has skyrocketed from 500 a decade ago to 26,000 today, and with no substantive rules in place to govern the operations, the rapid increase has created an unmanageable risk to public health, safety, and security, she said.
As the program has grown, so too has the cost to Canadian taxpayers. It has become unsustainable, Aglukkaq said.
Proposed new regulations announced Sunday remove Health Canada from the application process, and instead require health-care practitioners to write the equivalent of a prescription that must then be filled by a licensed commercial producer.
Subsequently, producers will have to get licences to produce and sell the marijuana in an appropriately zoned industrial or agricultural area, then sell at a price set by Health Canada.
"Current medical marijuana regulations have left the system open to abuse," Aglukkaq said, noting that local law enforcement agencies and the municipalities have not only been very vocal on the issue, but critical of how criminals are hiding behind the existing system.
Both local mayors, Maple Ridge's Ernie Daykin and Pitt Meadows' Deb Walters, were on hand and welcomed the proposed changes and lobby for it to happen sooner.
The two mayors were in agreement that the existing system unnecessarily taxes municipal resources because local governments have become the de facto enforcers. Further, it depletes the housing pool, impacts negatively on neighbourhoods, damages the water supply with high volumes of unknown fertilizers, attracts criminal activity - including grow rips - and puts emergency responders at unacceptably high risk.
Supt. Dave Walsh, the top cop at Ridge Meadows RCMP, is hopeful the changes will curtail the criminal element.
"Will there still be grow ops? Sure. but as long as they deliver [on the proposed regulations] and don't back down, it's all positive," Walsh said.
Likewise, Pitt Meadows fire chief Don Jolley and Maple Ridge fire chief Peter Grootendorst said it is long overdue.
They noted firefighters are put in jeopardy whenever responding to fires at homes where occupants are licensed to grow medical marijuana.
Several such fires in the past two years have put firefighters at risk, including a blaze in Whonnock last year where Grootendorst was blown over by a "violent" propane explosion just as he approached a burning outbuilding. It
turned out the structure was being used to grow about four times the legal amount approved by Health Canada.
But still, no charges were ever filed.
Don "It has no place in residential neighbourhoods," added Jolley, who noted two fires occurred in the past three months in Pitt Meadows subdivisions in so-called legal home grows.
The president and founder of The Always Growing Green Society (TAGGS), a medical marijuana dispensary in Maple Ridge, said Health Canada set up the program to give people licences to grow marijuana medicinally in their own homes, many of whom have invested money into equipment.
"Now they're going to take it all back," Joinson said.
After the changes announced by Health Canada on Sunday, Joinson said he doesn't think a licensed commercial producer would necessary provide the in-depth knowledge to help use cannabis as a medical product, for example, how it should be ingested or what are the different strains to use.
"Just because you are a gardener, it doesn't mean you know how to use cannabis medically," Joinson said.