City hosts ‘mythical’ inspector to talk about medical grow-ops

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said it was great to "finally welcome" an inspector to city hall to talk about medical marijuana production.

The conversation about dangers posed by medical marijuana grow-ops in residential areas finally took place between City of Chilliwack and Health Canada officials.

It was “long overdue,” said Coun. Chuck Stam, head of the city’s public safety committee at the June 19 council meeting where he recounted what happened. “It was a tough conversation to have. It’s been a bone of contention for municipalities for years.”

He called the 11-year-old medical marijuana program “fraught with grief,” from the municipal health and safety point of view, but also from the federal perspective.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said it was great to “finally welcome” an inspector to city hall. An inspector had been considered “a mythical creature,” until they actually met one in person, she quipped.

“We were very pleased they took us seriously enough to send the right people so we could have a conversation about what we’re seeing out there,” said Stam.

One of the concerns is kids living in houses where marijuana is growing, and illegal grows that are reborn as legal grows under the current medical marijuana program.

“I don’t think the incredible danger they pose was realized initially by Health Canada when the rules were drawn up,” he said.

City officials played host to the federal government officials on June 13, which included the head of the regional compliance program for Health Canada, and a representative from Crown Counsel in Ottawa.

“We were grateful that they heard first-hand from RCMP, Fire Department and Bylaw Enforcement that we have serious concerns.”

The Chilliwack reps learned the federal government is poised to overhaul the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations legislation. The goal is to have the ability to license growers and shift medical marijuana production to commercial operations.

If the proposal goes through, the new regulations come into effect in 2014.

The grows will have to comply with building codes, “which will create more a regulatory regime,” for them, Stam said. “It will be done professionally, not just in basements, where the venting smells and public safety issues spill over into our neighbourhoods.”

“A few things still give me pause,” Mayor Gaetz said about the proposed changes. “There are no provisions contained in the proposal for protection of children, which I think is shortsighted, and is something that needs to be looked at.

The mayor dubbed it “a very interesting” session, adding they could sense some of the frustration being felt by federal officials on this issue.

“We also want to be able to protect our staff in terms of health and safety.”

A public consultation period is expected to start by mid-October.

Under the current rules, Health Canada inspectors can go into medicinal grows, but they need a warrant to do so.

“That was a surprise to us,” Stam said.

If they’re growing too many plants, there’s no way to revoke the licence. All the inspector can do is remove the excess plants, he added.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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