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Grace period mulled for medical grows in Maple Ridge

Maple Ridge councillor Mike Morden wants a proper plan in place to deal with dismantling medical marijuana growops. He favours charging growers for the cost of inspecting the operations to make sure they are safe once they are dismantled. - The News/Files
Maple Ridge councillor Mike Morden wants a proper plan in place to deal with dismantling medical marijuana growops. He favours charging growers for the cost of inspecting the operations to make sure they are safe once they are dismantled.
— image credit: The News/Files

The District of Maple Ridge is trying to figure out what to do once home-based medical marijuana operations become illegal in two months.

Starting April 1, the roughly 38,000 Canadians currently licensed to carry medicinal marijuana will no longer be allowed to grow their own cannabis or source it from small-scale designated growers.

Instead, only large, commercial operations authorized by Health Canada will produce and sell pot. Patients will only get dried cannabis shipped to them via mail or courier, a dispensary or commercial grower.

Exact local figures are difficult to find as the federal government is not permitted to share the location of licensed grow ops with municipal or law enforcement officials.

However, Ridge Meadows RCMP estimate there could be as many as 500 properties with licenses to grow cannabis for medical use.

“It’s harder and harder to find an illegal grow,” Insp. Dave Fleugel said following a meeting with council to discuss how the district will deal with the new rules.

RCMP are not in favour of an outright crack-down, but are looking to civic politicians to guide how they will ensure formerly legal growops are dismantled.

“It’s still a bit of an evolving landscape,” said Fleugel, adding that the medical growops that will be targeted first are the ones with links to organized crime.

“This has the potential to cripple the courts. Something is going to have to take a back seat if we are going to go after all of them. It’s important to be strategic about it.”

Fleugel says a lot of resources go into investigating a growop and a cost-benefit analysis would be a preferred route.

RCMP and the fire department have even discussed an amnesty or grace-period, which would allow people to divulge the location and have their growops decommissioned without facing a penalty.

The fire department wants to ensure all former medical grow operations are properly restored. That means dealing with mould, electrical and fire safety issues, although there hasn’t been a fire at a medical grow operations recently.

“We are going to be dealing with it as a property use issue,” said fire chief Dane Spence.

Health Canada has said it will provide written guidance to current program users to “facilitate the proper disposal of dried cannabis and marijuana plants and encourage compliance with federal, provincial and municipal laws,” but has no way to ensure everyone will comply.

Although police and the fire department are advising council to act with caution, one Maple Ridge councillor believes it’s the district’s duty to take action.

We’ve known about this issue for a long time and erring on the side of caution by simply allowing things to just roll along because of a “changing landscape” is unacceptable, said Michael Morden, who will be vying for the mayor’s seat in the next civic election.

Morden wants to know why there hasn’t been additional preparation on a local level.

“Do we have a meaningful bylaw mechanism to deal with this? Where will all the additional fire, police and bylaw services come from? Can we keep them safe? Who will pay? Or are we simply going to just let the many hundreds of full-scale grow ops just continue to plague this community?

“The lack of pre-planning has huge cost implications on our taxpayers, as well places an enormous burden on our protective services. If we don’t plan ahead, not only will we continue to be the default regulators of this problem, but we will bear all the costs, which isn’t fair to all the law-abiding taxpayers.”

Morden would like to use B.C.’s Community Charter or local bylaws to recoup the costs of inspecting and remediating the medical grows from the growers themselves.

The new federal regulations, however, are being challenged in court by a group named the MMAR Coalition Against Appeal.

Maple Ridge resident Sandra Colasanti and her husband Remo are one of 6,600 coalition members actively working to prevent the new rules from coming into force. A hearing date for an injunction is set for March 18.

Although Colasanti does not use medical marijuana, she became an advocate after her husband began using and growing cannabis to treat chronic pain, stemming from a broken neck and back.

“Most patients I know don’t hang out with gangsters,” said Colasanti, annoyed that politicians continue to lump medical growers in with the illegal marijuana trade.

“We have no interest in breaking the law.”

The Colasantis will dismantle their medical operation by March 31, but want to leave the structure and lights in place should the repeal coalition win in court. Their operation, licensed since 2000, has been inspected by fire and building officials.

Colasanti believes most home-based growers will shut down their operations rather than risk a visit from police.

“We honestly feel that we are going to win in court,” said Colasanti, who is being inundated with calls from chronically ill license holders who are worried about a shortage of marijuana and the expense of purchasing it via mail.

“The only people who are going to continue growing after April 1 are the ones who can’t afford to buy it, the ones who are really sick.”

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