City bylaws pushing out pot grow ops

Bylaws that target marijuana grow operations in the City of Pitt Meadows have nearly stamped out the illegal enterprise, according to figures released by the municipality and police.

Not one grow op was busted by RCMP in Pitt Meadows last year, while only one inspection was conducted under the city’s marijuana grow operation bylaw, which targets houses with abnormally high energy usage – more than 93 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.

At the beginning of January, officers dismantled one grow operation that housed more than 800 marijuana plants.

Neighbouring Maple Ridge, meanwhile, saw 63 grow op busts in 2010.

“I think they’ve moved out,” said bylaw enforcement officer Leslie Elchuk.

Since the city’s marijuana grow op bylaw came into effect in 2007, inspections to properties using too much electricity have steadily dropped.

Elchuk and her inspection team visited 38 homes in 2007, followed by 12 in 2008 and seven in 2009.

For each inspection, the homeowner was billed around $3,000, raking in approximately $174,000 in fees for the city since the bylaw has been in place.

“It makes a difference. It is a good thing,” said Elchuk.

Last year, the city also went after legal medical marijuana operations by putting in place a bylaw that prohibits anyone from growing the plant for others in residential and agricultural zones.

Growing a small amount of medical pot for personal use is still permitted within city limits.

The seeming demise of illegal marijuana grow operations won’t stop Elchuk from keeping any eye on properties which are hovering near the high hydro consumption threshold.

Neither will the threat of class action lawsuits. Coquitlam and Mission, which have a similar bylaw, are already facing litigation.

“It is a public safety issue,” stresses Elchuk.

“If you live in a residential area, we need to make sure everything is OK in the house.”

David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is concerned that municipal officials are using bylaws to get around the constitutional requirements of police officers, which he called “an unconstitutional approach to the law.”

The association was an intervener in a case in May 2010 that found Surrey safety inspections were contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since the court case, Elchuk says the city is more careful about which houses its inspection team targets.

“We have to do our due diligence so that when we knock on the door we really believe that there is something there,” she added.

Most homeowners comply with Elchuk’s request for inspection.

If they refuse, the city must seek a warrant to enter the property.

Elchuk has not yet needed to apply for a warrant to inspect a property.

“It’s not difficult to get one,” she added.

Police also welcome the city’s initiative, even if it may be pushing grow operations into Maple Ridge.

The RCMP believe the bylaws send a very clear message to anyone who wants to grow marijuana in Pitt Meadows, legally or illegally.

“Ridge Meadows RCMP support both of our mayors and councils on all bylaws, especially those which enhance public safety,” said Supt. Dave Walsh.

- with files from Black Press

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