Pitt Meadows—the most ban happy town in the west—has succeeded in passing the first Canadian bylaw banning caregivers from growing marijuana for patients in their homes, or on farms. Original reports of the bylaw indicated the ban would be on growing legal marijuana entirely within its jurisdiction’s agricultural and residential zones, but the final wording allows patients to still grow for themselves in these areas.
Essentially, the law makes makes it even more difficult for those patients, who aren’t able to care for the plant themselves, to find a consistent source of medicine. It will increase the costs associated with their illness by forcing these legal grows into the industrial section of town, or require them to find a caregiver outside of Pitt Meadows willing to grow their medicine for them.
The Mayor and Council claim their concern is that grow operations pose a fire hazard, although, according the the Pitt Meadows Fire Chief, Don Jolley, the municipality has not had to respond to a fire at a permitted marijuana production facility to date. “We are, however, concerned that the existence of permitted operations are not subject to rigorous inspections for fire and building code and land-use compliance and as such may have very similar hazards related to life safety and fire as illegal operations,” he said in an e-mail to The Vancouver Sun.
The Mayor of Pitt Meadows, Don McLean, also points to abuse of the regulations as a reason for the new bylaw. “So-called legal grow-ops are not operating within the spirit of the law,” he told the Vancouver Sun in July in reference to a July raid of a medical marijuana grow facility that had exceeded the number of plants allowed on their permit by more than 1500 plants. However, one might argue that there are laws already in place to deal with such issues.
McLean also wants the City and the local RCMP to be told the location of licensed marijuana production facilities within the municipality. Providing permit-holder information to law enforcement as a matter-of-course would be a bad idea, Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw told the Vancouver Sun in July, adding that the “circus and sideshow” caused by the RCMP showing up at a permitted production facility would draw the attention of criminals, putting law-biding permit-holders at risk. “The ill have privacy rights, they don’t lose their privacy rights because they got ill,” he added
While Pitt Meadows may have rightfully earned a reputation for previous bylaws banning everything from adult video stores, to used car lots, and even pit-bulls, other communities in the Fraser Val- ley are watching and considering similar bylaws themselves. Most notably the cities of Surrey (who had just had its warrant- less search bylaw overturned in court) and Chilliwack.
Counsellor Chuck Stam, who chairs Chilliwack’s public safety committee, said abuse of the medical marijuana licensing system is a growing problem there, with several license-holders “parking” their licenses on one property, and growing more plants than legally permitted. “Health Canada is not living up to a commitment to inspect the sites to ensure compliance with the rules,” he told the Chilliwack Times.
Health Canada has also done little to alleviate the concern of communities, or to ensure patients’ rights to their medicine. As we see with the Pitt Meadows bylaw, communities well versed in the “grow op reefer madness” have received little official education on the safety of legal grows and how those dangers differ.
In illegal grow-ops, the need to hide the plants probably creates the biggest safety risk and damage to homes. Some growers will wire bypasses to prevent detection due to power use, which if done incorrectly is a fire hazard, as is running hot lights in small hidden away places. Also, moisture buildup can occur in these small places where you have plants growing, which can cause damage to homes. These factors simply do not exist in a licensed legal grow facility, because there is no longer a need to hide the plants.
Health Canada’s responsibility to communities is to ensure that safety guidelines in legal grow facilities are being met. The ministry remains silent while municipalities grapple with how to ensure the safety of their communities in the face of grow facilities setting up shop within their borders. They have been given no assurance that these “grow-ops” do not pose a significant risk.
In the ten years that the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations have been in effect in Canada, there has been little improvement in the regulations to provide patients with reasonable access. Dispensaries and Compassion clubs are a phenonena of that poor access. Though Health Canada does offer “medical marijuana” to patients, the product is essentially the entire plant ground upstem stock, leafs, and all—and packaged. They offer only one strain of medicine, and the quality pales in comparison to what compassion clubs have to offer.
Advocates like Randy Caine, the owner of Hempyz in Langley, have come forward to fill the gaps in the system, which has also placed the burden of regulation on the shoulders of local politicians. Caine is familiar with fighting against City Hall.
When he opened his “everything hemp shop” Hempyz, he faced the arduous battle against Council’s attempts to legislate him out of business using City bylaws.
Through his work at Hempyz, Caine found himself being approached by marijuana license holders who were struggling to get access to the medicine. As more people came to him for help, he developed a proposal for the City of Langley Counsel to consider. He submitted two proposals in June containing health, legal, and historical information on medical marijuana, and the option of opening a dispensary (separate from Hempyz business).
Caine told the Langley Advance in July that he would like to work with local governments to create bylaws and regulation so residents can have a say in any local dispensary, and to have their concerns addressed. Langley has not yet responded to Caine’s proposals.
While communities in the Fraser Valley struggle with the question of Medical Marijuana, they are calling on the provincial government to take action.
At the Union of BC Municipalities convention in early Oct., delegates passed a Victoria motion that regulation of the issue should be transferred from the federal to the provincial government. This could potentially allow the province to dis- tribute marijuana using pharmacies and community dispensaries, which they theo- rize would reduce the number of “harmful” legal grow-ops, and patients growing for themselves. Delegates also debated tighter enforcement on legal medical grows, but sent the motion back for study due to concerns about patient privacy issues.
Meanwhile, processing time for a patient to legally access marijuana through Health Canada is up to six months long— or more—due to a backlog of applications. Something that Health Canada has ad- mitted is due to the high volume of applications they are receiving. The number of applications is double that of the same time last year. There are reports that Health Canada “has implemented a new strategy to decrease wait times” but we have yet to see wait times decrease as significantly as they should. It is putting patients at risk, as in the case of Les Petherick from Peterborough Ontario.
On Sept. 1, police executed a search warrant on his home, where officers seized eight marijuana plants, about four grams of marijuana, and grow equipment, police said, and estimated value of the seizure at $8,500.
Petherick has been a licensed marijuana user since May of 2009, and had been waiting four months for his renewal, when the police executed their warrant. While he never expected the police to come, he stated the Peterborough Examiner that he has always been afraid it might happen.
He has, as a result of the search, been charged with production of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and setting a trap likely to cause bodily harm. The last charge, stemming from a boards with nails that police found sitting in his backyard near the fence. The notion that he had set up any trap is ludicrous to Petherick. He said that his carpenter was testing a malfunctioning nail gun, and left the boards with nails in the back of his yard.
City police Sgt. Walter DiClemente said the expired medical card was a black and white issue. When a card expires, the individual is no longer allowed to legally possess or grow marijuana. “If their card has been expired, it’s just like a driver’s license,” he said. “It expires, you’re no longer allowed to drive.”
Of course, the courts tell us that driving is a privilege you earn by taking a test, and practising safety on the road. Medical marijuana on the other hand is a human right. It is a treatment for many illnesses and one of the most efficacious treatments for pain. The time has come for Health Canada, and authorities alike, to recognize these facts and make the MMAR accessible to patients by reducing waiting times, and providing a reasonable distribution system for patients, and mnicipalities alike.