A Sunday afternoon press conference in the training room of Maple Ridge’s main firehall saw changes announced that could put the kybosh on growing medical marijuana in homes 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 and firefighters.
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.
The new regulations announced Sunday will require health care practitioners to write the equivalent of a prescription that must then be filled at 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,” Aglukkaqu 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 rules.
Both local mayors, Maple Ridge’s Ernie Daykin and Pitt Meadows’ Deb Walters, were on hand, and welcomed the proposed changes. They both agreed, however, that implementation would be better sooner than later.
The two mayors were also in agreement that not only does the existing system unnecessarily tax municipal resources, but 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 that surrounds grow houses.
“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.”
Likewise, fire officials from both municipalities – including Pitt Meadows chief Don Jolley and Maple Ridge chief Peter Grootendorst – said it is long overdue.
They noted that they and their 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 out in Whonnock last year, where Grootendorst was blown over by a “violent” propane explosion just as he approached a burning outbuilding. It turned out that the structure was being used to grow about four times the legal amount of medical marijuana, but no charges were ever filed.
“It has no place in residential neighbourhoods,” added Jolley, who noted two in the past three months in Pitt Meadows subdivisions.
He believes it should be in the agricultural area of the community, and regulated accordingly.
“It’s no different from any other kind of crop,” he said.
MP Randy Kamp was emceeing the event, and in between speakers, he applauded the announcement as well as efforts of the local municipalities and law enforcement in putting together a case for such change.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said the announcement is timely, as the dangers posed by grow operations in homes increase locally.
Before hearing of today’s announcement, Dalton had fired off an email Friday, calling for some kind of action to be taken.
“This will help to put some real parameters around it,” Dalton said.
While the regulations were rolled out as proposals, and Aglukkaq said there will be a 75-day consultation process for the public and other stakeholders to weigh in, she insisted the regulations will become law.