City steps up fight against legal residential marijuana grow ops
The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team says it is known that some people with federal licences “are hiding behind their licences to traffic in marijuana.” A move to prohibit residential grow ops has been stalled by a court challenge.
Photograph by: Colleen De Neve Colleen De Neve , Calgary Herald
An appeal to Canada’s health minister to hand over addresses of federally approved residential medical marijuana grow ops has reached “critical” status, says Calgary’s mayor.
“Since 2012, (the city) has inspected 28 federally licensed residential grow operations,” Naheed Nenshi said in a recent letter to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq obtained by the Herald. “In all cases the owners’ operation was closed due to identified safety risks and violations.”
Nenshi was reiterating the city’s previous request in March for federal health officials to provide the information to local authorities ahead of Ottawa’s plan to end its controversial Medical Marijuana Access Regulations program — a move now stalled by a court injunction.
“During the injunction, the city is proposing to continue to use this list to monitor and conduct safety inspection of currently identified operations as we had previously done to protect our community,” said Nenshi.
The MMAR regime, introduced in 2001, allowed patients to legally grow a limited amount of marijuana in their homes. Since its introduction, the number of people authorized to possess marijuana for medical reasons steadily increased from fewer than 100 in 2001 to nearly 32,000 in 2014.
As well, the number of personal and designated production licences climbed, reaching 23,422 by March 31, 2014, including 1,066 in Alberta.
From the outset, the MMAR program was plagued with problems.
Proponents and users complained of the low quality of marijuana initially provided by the government. Physicians were concerned about health and legal implications. And police feared it would be abused by criminals.
“The fact is, we do know that there are individuals who are hiding behind their licences to traffic in marijuana,” said Mike Tucker, spokesman for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team. “And this is connected to organized crime right down to simple dial-a-dope operations.”
The Herald has uncovered one case in which Health Canada officials approved medical marijuana licences for two people charged with trafficking to grow and possess hundreds of pot plants and several kilograms of dried marijuana.
Under the MMAR program, Health Canada did not require applicants to undergo background checks — a glaring loophole the department hopes the new system will address.
“If you have any hint of a criminal record at all, that seriously impedes your chances of getting a (commercial) licence,” said Sara Lauer, spokeswoman for Health Canada. “That’s definitely one of the improvements and reasons why we changed the program.”
In addition to the criminal element, municipalities and health authorities were left to shut down residential grow ops that often violated building and health codes.
“The concerns we have is that because of what is being grown in the residence(s) the house was never really designed for the high humidity levels,” said Wayne Brown, co-ordinator for Calgary’s safety response team.
Last year, Health Canada announced it would end the MMAR on March 31 and would introduce a new program in which patients who had a doctor’s prescription would buy marijuana through a federally approved commercial grower.
But Ottawa’s plan to kill the old program was thwarted March 21 when a federal court judge issued a temporary injunction until a constitutional challenge against the new commercial program is heard.
Until that injunction is lifted, MMAR licences remain valid.
In anticipation of the pending change, Calgary tweaked its land-use bylaws to accommodate commercial grow ops and now effectively prohibit residential grow ops in the city.
“If the injunction fails, then these are illegal operations,” said Wayne Brown, co-ordinator for Calgary’s safety response team.
“We’re hoping that they would shut the operation down and we would be able to assist them and bring the house back to (occupancy).”
But the mayor’s plea is unlikely to sway Health Canada, which maintains releasing that information would be a violation of people’s privacy, a spokesman told the Herald.
Article source Calgary Herald