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Marijuana grower vows to fight FVRD on pot zoning

Sam Mellace has the perfect set up for his medical marijuana grow-op. Set in the backwoods of Mission, the large lot is wooded and completely private. He has no neighbours. There's only one road in, which he monitors.

For the past decade, Mellace has been legally growing pot for personal use on agricultural land under Fraser Valley Regional District jurisdiction.

But his operation is at risk. FVRD is considering banning grow-ops from farm land, relegating them to an industrial zoning.

For Mellace, moving is not an option.

"I'll fight this tooth and nail. There isn't anything here that's not done to code, and I'll show you. Everything here is done to code and above. Security-wise, nobody has this kind of security," Mellace told the Abbotsford News during a tour of his property in October.

Mellace is a long-time marijuana activist who has influenced a growing list of regulations surrounding medical marijuana use and production.

The possibility that FVRD would ban his operation on his ag land has thrown a wrench into his expansion plans. He has postponed his application to Health Canada for a licence to grow pot commercially because he fears such a licence would require him to move to an industrial park.

FVRD is leaning towards permitting grow-ops only on land zoned for industrial use, following a precedent set by the city of Chilliwack in August. When new federal rules that ban grow-ops in private homes go into effect in April 2014, medical marijuana operations in Chilliwack will be permitted in special industrial zones only, in the same class as slaughterhouses, asphalt manufacturers, and sewage treatment plants.

The concern with allowing farm land to be used for growing medical marijuana are the potential odour and security risks. Some have also argued that it is unfair to give agricultural land-related tax breaks to pot growers.

On the other side of the argument is Mellace. During the Abbotsford News' tour, Mellace's complex was nearly completely odourless. The only exception was a mild smell of pot surrounding the building where buds dry.

When it comes to security, Mellace argues that in an industrial facility he would be at much higher risk than he is now.

"Putting everybody (medical marijuana growers) in an industrial area will cause criminal havoc," he said. "There are too many security breaches."

Mellace keeps the location of his current operation quiet. A separate office in Abbotsford, under the name New Age Medical Solutions, handles billing and deliveries. Trusted staff then truck supplies to Mission.

The complex itself has ground sensors, alarms, cameras, and motion-activated lights. An eight-foot barbed wire fence surrounds the land, and there is a separate fence for the building housing the approximately 600 plants. At times of high production, there are guard dogs and armed security.

Mellace worries he won't be able to keep such tight control of the complex in an industrial area, especially if his location is publicly known.

Other than security, Mellace is concerned that chemicals used by neighbours in an industrial park might damage his plants. He also fears the higher operational costs of a larger industrial facility would put him out of business.

In the future, Mellace wants to grow his plants in the ground, shielded by low greenhouses. And he's not looking for farm status or tax breaks.

"It's a plant. You can't convert this into industrial if it's a plant. How?," said Mellace. "As far as farming is concerned, the definition of farming is plants and animals…The definition of industrial does not include plants and/or animals."

Mellace supports closing grow-ops in residential areas, and moving them to regulated locations that are known to RCMP and Health Canada. His current set-up fits this criteria, he said.

"I'm nowhere near a hospital, nowhere near a school. No neighbours, no nothing. And that's the way it should be. You're supposed to be in remote areas. Don't even be anywhere near the city," he said.

FVRD will consider zoning of medical marijuana at the next electoral area services committee on Nov. 13 at 1 p.m. in Chilliwack. Mellace said he is applying to be a delegate at the meeting in order to present his case.

The City of Abbotsford is moving to ban medical marijuana grow-ops within city limits entirely.

The federal government is phasing out the rules that allow private users to grow pot in their homes, the licence under which Mellace has been operating since 2002. Instead, pot will be grown in factory farms monitored by the RCMP and public health inspectors. The first licences to operate such farms have already been granted.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE GROW-OP

Ever since Mellace made headlines in 2010 for smoking a joint – legally – on Parliament Hill, he has been pushing the boundaries with his buds. With help from researchers at various Canadian universities, Mellace has developed a way to separate the high-inducing chemical - THC - from the chemicals that relieve pain - CBD and CBN.

The result is a skin cream that relieves arthritis. It's a butter that bakes into cookies. It's a throat lozange.

"We're not promoting the smoking park," said Mellace. "We liquify it. So by liquifying it, we can give you more CBD, more CBN, and take out the THC, so there's no high."

Mellace is thinking about people aged 40 plus, for whom a medicated pasta sauce or a candy may be more accessible than smoking. Some of his products contain THC; others don't. As Mellace experiments with his buds, he is learning to control the amount of THC in the product. In the future, he could customize medicated creams and sauces to clients' specifications.

"There's no addiction. There's no high. You're getting the pain relief you want and you can still go to work, without having that social nightmare of getting addicted," Mellace said. "This is all natural. It's all organic, there's no pesticides, no carcinogens…We just want to give the doctors more tools to work with."

For now, Mellace can't sell any of the products. He can only produce them for personal consumption, he said.

But he expects regulations to change soon. And when they do, Mellace is ready to move quickly.

"Nobody has this yet. We were the first ones. We've always been the pioneers in extraction and research and development. We have seven years of it already in play. We're ready for clinical trials. We're waiting," said Mellace.

akonevski@abbynews.com
twitter.com/alinakonevski
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