Neighbours want Pitt medical grow gone

Owners say they are following rules, city’s hands tied

Medical grow changes could come after 2014.

Medical grow changes could come after 2014.

You can hear the frustration in his voice as he describes the coming and goings of his neighbours.

He keeps tabs on the steady stream of cars that frequent the farm and seethes when he thinks about the waft of marijuana that floats across the fields into his home on Richardson Road in Pitt Meadows.

“I’ve got a stack of police cards,” he says, lamenting the complaints about the marijuana grow operation that he’s made to police and city officials for the past five years.

The man fears he and his neighbours will become targets if identified and asked to remain anonymous. He said the trouble with the property began after its original owner passed away and it was sold and rented. The current landlord lives in Abbotsford.

Not long after the sale, the man said, tenants began growing marijuana inside the house.

In March 2009, Ridge Meadows RCMP raided the property after a B.C. Hydro technician found it using an average of 36,000 watts of electricity a day.

Police seized 1,066 marijuana plants from the house, which was eventually condemned by the Pitt Meadows bylaws department.

A search warrant application shows the property owner as Parmjit Kaur Sandhu, who also owned a gym on 224th Street in Maple Ridge that was demolished after an illegal growop was found inside.

In 2010, neighbours on Richardson Rd. watched curiously as a barn was built.

This time, though, the tenants obtained a license from Health Canada to grow cannabis for medical use.

Although police investigated the property last year, they did not obtain a search warrant.

That inability to push what is a legal activity off the rural street has neighbours pestering city bylaw officials, police and the local member of parliament.

Neighbours blame the grow operation for drawing suspicious characters to the area, driving expensive cars, and insist a shooting that took place at the end of their street in October was connected to it.

Police did not publicize the shooting.

“This is an active investigation and we can’t divulge many details, Cpl. Alanna Dunlop said.

Ridge Meadows RCMP did alert neighbours, she added, but felt putting the incident out in the media could harm their investigation.

“I’ve tried everything,” says one neighbour. “The same property that was growing illegally, the government hired to grow legally. It doesn’t make sense.”

As of Oct. 30 – 12,225 people hold an “authorization to possess” dried marijuana license under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations in Canada.

Of those, 7,277 people hold a “personal use production license,” while 2,163 more hold a “designated-person” license, which allows someone else to grow their marijuana.

Health Canada is proposing to phase out the production of marijuana for medical purposes in homes and communities. But those changes won’t come before 2014.

Pitt Meadows’ new mayor understands the neighbourhood’s frustration. Deb Walters has heard similar complaints at conferences from municipalities across the country.

“It is something the federal government really has to get a handle on. If they are going to allow it, somebody has to police it,” she said.

“It is frustrating on so many levels. It is wonderful that the federal government allows it, but then municipalities are dealing with problems like this. Hopefully they will come with stricter guidelines on it.”

The City of Pitt Meadows put rules in place last year prohibiting growing marijuana for medicinal use by others in residential and agricultural zones. Growing medical marijuana for personal use is still permitted in the city.

A man who lives on the grow op property assures neighbours that he is following the city’s rules.

There are multiple tenants who live on the property who all have “personal use” licenses, he said.

The man said he even allowed city bylaw officials to inspect the barn three weeks ago.

“We moved here because it was agricultural land. It is all legal through Health Canada,” he said, admitting he was growing his marijuana in a residential area before but relocated after he realized the dangers having a greenhouse in his basement.

“I don’t understand how we are bothering neighbours. It’s either you smell that or horse manure. We do acknowledge it does smell, but we are on a 10-acre parcel. I feel it’s like a complaint that doesn’t have any truth behind it.”

However, concerns stem from several medical marijuana grow ops in Maple Ridge that have been caught exceeding their licenses.

In June, RCMP seized a helicopter, two pickup trucks and three 30-to-40-foot empty, enclosed mobile units from a medical grow operation with 1,490 plants – a quantity seven times larger than the 220 permitted.

The previous year, police seized 1,744 pot plants from a house on Skillen Street that was licensed to grow only 73 plants.

But police are not allowed to arbitrarily check any licenced homes. “Health Canada has the records, and they do not divulge who has a licence, and where the medicinal grow operation is going to take place to police,” Dunlop said. “Health Canada has designated inspectors who are mandated to ensure these medicinal grow operations conform to the licence that was issued.”

Marijuana activists believe complaints of abuse of medical grow licenses are exaggerated.

“There are a lot of problems with the system as it exists, but I think a lot of those problems are overblown,” said Dana Larsen, with End Prohibition, a group advocating for legal marijuana.

“The system as it is was set up to fail and there are many ways it needs to be improved. For the police to blame the medical marijuana program for fuelling organized crime is ridiculous. The reality is, marijuana has been growing in every city, town and hamlet in this province long before there was a medical marijuana program.”