The smell of marijuana, say neighbours, is so bad that two businesses may relocate; it’s so bad, employees often leave with headaches while their clothing stinks.
Maple Ridge council could be giving the boot to the operation in units 103, 104 and 105 at 11410 Kingston St. after approving a remediation order Monday.
The owner of the strata units, Arms Holdings Ltd., will have to either hire a consultant and fix the smell within 30 days, or the legal grow operation will be shut down.
Council pored over a staff report detailing issues with the units, from unsafe electrical equipment to a second level built without permits, to a requirement to build fire-rated floors, ceiling and wall assemblies. While the tenants applied for a building permit, one hasn’t yet been issued for the work.
Inspections took place June 21 and July 18, followed by a letter ordering the repairs.
That was followed by a Dec. 7 letter telling Arms Holdings to fix the odour problems immediately, with a Dec. 20 letter saying the issue will be sent to council.
Coun. Cheryl Ashlie wants to know why it’s taken until April to deal with it.
“What is taking so long for us to get to this point, when what is in there is so obviously a hazard?
“To me, this should have happened last year. I want us to get better and quicker at shutting these down.”
Letters to council about the grow op show the frustration from the neighbours. Canoe-Kayak B.C. may move out of its unit next door and out of Maple Ridge, says Mary Jane Abbott, executive-director.
The office can no longer have high school students help out as part of their career planning because of the smell, she says in a January letter. She’s negotiating for a new location outside Maple Ridge.
“Not only is it embarrassing to have members come to our offices … and be overwhelmed with the smell of marijuana, but because of the smell, our office hours have become unpredictable, once the headaches start, the office shuts.”
For nearby Slow-Pitch National B.C., in unit 101, it’s the same story.
“Clients do not want to enter the premises based on the smell. I am unable to work in these conditions as the smell makes me sick,” Lorri McAuley said last September.
With legislation changing and the federal government phasing out personal grow licences next year in favour of larger, commercial operations, staff and politicians were confused about regulations. If it’s a federally licenced facility and they’re growing marijuana for medical purposes, what are the federal standards, asked Coun. Bob Masse.
Maple Ridge’s chief administrator Jim Rule explained the district doesn’t have to be informed about medical grow-op locations, but once it does learn the location, it can enforce building bylaws.
“At this point in time, there could be a medical marijuana [building] sitting next to you and you will know nothing about it.”
He said it’s important for the district to follow legal advice so its actions don’t get challenged in court, which could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Coun. Corisa Bell asked if the operation was producing the quantity of marijuana as specified by its licence, but staff didn’t know.
She added that Coquitlam recently shut down an operation based on the number of plants.
“I’m convinced that there’s more that we could be doing.”
Council also had questions about WorkSafe B.C. regulations, and whether the operation has a business licence.
But Coun. Judy Dueck said the district has to follow the process outlined by its lawyers.
“It’s a system that has huge holes in it and it isn’t working,” added Mayor Ernie Daykin.
“In my view, they have left it to us and it’s not working.”
Daykin said while the premises are being leased out, the building owner has to do the clean up.
“He’s paying for the consequences of what his tenant is doing.”
Arms Holdings president Agostino Velenosi said the tenant made improvements and he received the district’s OK in January or February.
“They said at this point, everything was OK,” Velenosi said. “It was all done when the lawyer was there.”
The only task remaining was odour testing, but that didn’t have to be done until 49 days before the crop was harvested.
While the District of Maple Ridge says it’s the owner’s responsibility, Velenosi said the tenants have to make the improvements.
“I don’t have anything to do with that.”
Ventilation equipment hasn’t been installed because of cost, but Velenosi said the tenants told him that equipment isn’t needed yet.
He’s told his tenants, however, if they don’t do the repairs, they’ll be evicted by the end of May, once the current crop has been harvested.
Velenosi leased out the three units last year after the units had been vacant for two years. Before he did that, he called the RCMP and was told as long as they have a medical grow licence, “It’s perfectly legal.”
Velenosi said the operation is licensed to provide medical pot for two or three people, allowing 149 plants.
His company originally built the building in 1995, then sold off part of it and kept units 103, 104, and 105.
But now he might sell the rest. Property taxes have climbed and he says it’s easier and cheaper to build in Surrey or Burnaby.
“I won’t build in Maple Ridge, even if they [the district] paid for the building permit.”
Once Arms Holdings receives notice, the company can appeal to council. But if it doesn’t, it will have to do the work in 30 days or the district can enter the building and remove the grow op and put the cost of doing so on to the yearly property taxes.
“They need to know that we have a real strong resolve to get this dealt with,” Daykin said.
Council was to consider Tuesday night, a third reading of a bylaw that would allow only medical pot operations in agricultural zones and ban them from industrial areas. But that bylaw got a hostile reception at a public hearing last week.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced in Maple Ridge last year a shift to a new system of federally regulated commercial producers of medical marijuana who will supply authorized users with prescriptions from doctors.
“Under our new rule, only facilities that meet strict security requirements will be able to produce marijuana for medical purposes,” Aglukkaq said.
The federal Ministry of Health said it intends to implement the system by April 2014, at which point all current licences to possess or produce pot are to expire.