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City to review medical marijuana grow-op requirements

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How many medical marijuana grow-ops are there in the City of Kamloops?

The RCMP say three for sure, but city building inspectors estimate more.

Health Canada knows, but isn’t telling.

City of Kamloops staff are hoping a new set of regulations to be discussed at today’s (Nov.27) council meeting will shed some light on a murky system.

As of Oct. 12, 26,222 people across the country are licensed to grow marijuana for themselves or others through Health Canada’s marihuana medical-access program.

Of that number, 11,486 live in B.C., which boasts the highest share of production licences in the country.

A licence allows its holder to grow pot for up to two people — either themselves and another person, or two other medical-marijuana users.

City planner Maren Luciani said if two licence-holders team up at a property to cultivate for four people, a grow-op can run to 200 plants or more.

Under Health Canada’s medical-marijuana regulations, those planning on setting up a grow operation in Kamloops should let the city know of their intentions, Luciani said.

But, it doesn’t often happen.

“People get their licence and, when they get their authorization package in the mail, there’s a disclaimer that says you have to abide by local and provincial regulations as well, or something to that effect,” she said.

That requires growers to conform to community building codes and zoning bylaws, but Luciani said Health Canada doesn’t follow up to make sure producers are abiding by the rules.

Because of confidentiality issues, Health Canada doesn’t release the locations of medical marijuana grow-ops.

“One could pop up and what municipalities are finding — and Kamloops is no different — is right now, we’re finding out about them usually based on a complaint,” she said.

Luciani said proposed Kamloops regulations have a couple of goals: Getting grow-ops out of residential neighbourhoods and clarifying what is expected of growers who want to set up shop in Kamloops.

Under the proposed regulations, medical-marijuana production would be limited to either properties zoned for industrial use or those with industrial or agricultural zoning.

Of the two options, staff prefer the former.

Luciani said the city has received complaints from neighbours about the impact of residential grow-ops — and it’s a worry that’s not unique to Kamloops.

“There’s certainly aspects that create considerable nuisance to the neighbours,” Surrey Fire Chief Len Garris told KTW.

“It’s usually the pungent odours and the smell. And, there are some concerns about security and they’re concerned about grow rips or the criminal element that may just come by and take it away from them.

“And, those things occur. They’re also concerned about fires because most of these locations don’t receive building or electrical permits or those types of things for the safety features.”

Under Surrey’s bylaw 17410, adopted in 2011, residents seeking to grow medical marijuana must apply for a licence to grow — and a “personal-consumption” licence if they’re also planning to use the fruits of their labours.

In order to obtain city permission, would-be growers need to submit detailed floor and ventilation plans, a security plan that includes the use of a monitored alarm system, a declaration they won’t use pesticides in cultivation, and so on.

Once the licence is granted, the bylaw notes, building and health inspectors are allowed to enter the grow-op “at all reasonable times.”

There are also lot-size restrictions, intended to restrict grow-ops to agricultural land, but Garris said it’s difficult to get a grow-op to move once it is established.

To date, he said, Surrey’s restrictions haven’t moved one of the estimated 50 residential grow-operations in the city out of homes.

They have had more success, however, getting them out of other locations deemed unsuitable — strip malls, for instance.

If neighbours complain about a grow-op in a residence, the fire department will typically order an electrical inspection as a first step.

“And, under that basis, there has been some situations where we’ve basically disconnected power or also asked them to cease until they’ve been able to bring it into known safety regulations,” he said.

Garris said the approach is working.

The number of grow-op-related fires to which his department responds is down to about three per year.

In 2005, it was more like one per month.

Garris said he would recommend regulation to other communities, but said it needs to be balanced and sensitive to varying situations.

“I know there’s a lot of sensitivity in regards to the medical aspect in terms of pain management and pain medication and this initiative is not to address that, and it doesn’t have a position on that,” he said.

“The position is about public safety and the safety of the homes that are being used to cultivate marijuana, whether that’s appropriate or not.”

In addition to banning medical grow-ops in residential areas, the proposed Kamloops regulations would also require growers to obtain a building permit, file a ventilation plan with the city and inform staff of any “discharges to air, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, streams or groundwater” that would result.

It would also ban grow-ops from operating within 150 metres of a residential neighbourhood or any space catering to those under 18, such as schools and playgrounds.

Luciani said the building-permit requirement itself isn’t new.

Because the grow-ops would be operating in an area that’s already zoned for them, the permits wouldn’t require council approval.

That’s a relief to local pot activist Carl Anderson.

Early this year, Anderson appeared before city council, asking for permission to use a commercial space as a medical-marijuana grow-op without the public hearing that would normally accompany the process.

“I didn’t want to announce to the whole town that I would be growing marijuana at that site,” he said.

“Because that would destroy any potential security.”

Anderson said he’s been wanting to move his operation out of his residence for years, and these regulations would give him the privacy he requires.

“I think it’s a good move by the city planners and, hopefully, city council will agree,” he said.

Anderson isn’t sure how other people who grow medical marijuana in the city will react to the possible changes, since renting warehouse space on industrial land can be expensive.

But, he suggested, if medical users in Kamloops pool their resources, the setup could become more affordable.

Not covered under the proposed regulations are marijuana dispensaries, though other communities have bylaws banning them outright.

Luciani said because those aren’t allowed under Health Canada’s current regulations, the city isn’t addressing the issue at this time.

 

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