Growth area for Maple Ridge medical grows

Cities can’t restrict access to medical marijuana, but they can say where it should go and maybe profit from it

Medical marijuana is here to stay and Maple Ridge can’t do much about it, except to say it should go on farmland and not in residential neighourhoods.

A staff report says staff and a lawyer should write up such a bylaw, an idea that was sent to a future council meeting for full discussion.

District planner Diana Hall told council that Maple Ridge can’t restrict medical marijuana production for personal use, but it can regulate the commercial production of medical marijuana by requiring that it go in specific zones, in this case, farmland.

Medical marijuana grow ops are permitted within the Agricultural Land Reserve, Hall told council.

And to keep nearby neighbours happy, the report suggests pot production face the same restrictions as mushroom barns or pig sties, which means grow op buildings would have to be 60 metres away from the front lot line and 30 metres from rear lot lines.

As well, any medical marijuana-growing building would have to be 30 metres from a home or accessory building that’s used as a residence.

Instead, the district wants the medical grow business to take place on farmland, in buildings built for the purpose. That in turn could broaden Maple Ridge’s agricultural potential.

Requiring the medical marijuana to be considered as a farm operation, in purpose-built greenhouses,  could also have a positive effect by making those facilities available for other crops.

The lengthy report notes that with the development of LED technology, grow lights can be placed closer to plants, reducing the need for space, making operations more compact.

And if composting of the plant waste takes place on site, trucks don’t have to haul it out. Pumping the   carbon dioxide generated by the composting back into the greenhouses to spur plant growth, could further spare greenhouse gas generation.

Staff also gave council the option of allowing grow ops in industrial zones, but that drew no support.

Coun. Michael Morden wanted more cities to have more information on medical marijuana operations and proposed a resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities asking Health Canada to disclose locations and amounts of medical marijuana produced.

Council, though, won’t vote on that motion until a future meeting.

Still, Morden liked the impending legislation, noting it doesn’t address the issue of illegal grow ops.

The report points out that medical marijuana access regulations were adopted in 2001 by the federal government, after the courts declared access to medical marijuana to be a basic right in 1997.

As of a year ago, 3,600 people in B.C. were authorized to have medical marijuana, while about 1,200 were licensed to grow medical marijuana, many of whom do so in their homes.

But growing marijuana in homes can cause problems for both residents and neighbours, because of the amateur nature of electrical works needed to keep the grow lights on.

While bad wiring can cause fires, another possible explosive effect could result from using propane-powered carbon dioxide generators indoors. Carbon dioxide is used for speeding plant growth and the propane burners also generate carbon monoxide.

Marijuana grow operations could also attract raids and attacks by organized crime, looking to seize crops.

Health Canada doesn’t give police the locations or addresses of medical grow ops, which can lead to confusion between those and illegal grows.

One aggravation for police is that medical marijuana producers don’t have to account for the actual yield of their crop, which could far exceed what their licence specifies, and receive no penalty for doing so. That’s resulted in organized crime approaching medical grow operators for any of the surpluses.

Police also point out that none of the medical grow operations are inspected, possibly leading to more electrical fires.

All that may change, however.

Health Canada is developing safety, product quality, security and reporting standards, which could be introduced in two years, Hall said.