The house looks like the perfect place to raise a family. It sits adjacent to Westview secondary and is a block or so away from Laity View elementary.
On a school day, students stream past the beige home at 12220 Skillen St. Some admit they’ve noticed an odd smell.
“I’ve smelled weed in the morning,” says Erica Smith, who was waiting for a ride with her brother Jeff.
Both were surprised to learn the quaint house was the location of a medical marijuana grow operation that continues to operate despite exceeding its licence limit last year, and alleged links to organized crime.
“I don’t think it’s good to have it right near a school,” said Smith.
Westview secondary and neighbours have spent the better part of two years complaining about the grow operation, which began as an illegal enterprise, was busted by RCMP twice, but then obtained a Health Canada marijuana production licence, legally sanctioning the crop.
Last year, though, police raided the property and found the tenant had far exceeded the licence for 73 marijuana plants. Mounties seized 1,744 plants from the house and arrested a 41-year-old man. No one was charged.
A search warrant application shows an alleged gang connection to the property and states the electricity consumption was “four to six times what a restaurant like Kentucky Fried Chicken uses.”
B.C. Hydro called the property “a fire and public safety hazard”.
Despite the violation, the licensee is still allowed to grow marijuana.
“We, like others in the community, have communicated our concern to Health Canada and are awaiting a reply,” said Ian Liversidge, vice-principal at Westview secondary.
On Sept. 22, Mounties descended on the property after a 911 call was made regarding a break-in.
Neighbours claim police were unable to enter the property. All spoke on conditions of anonymity, afraid they might become targets if identified.
“A lot of big guys with nice cars,” is how one described visitors to the house.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said a man who lives nearby and has complained to the District of Maple Ridge and police.
“I understand it’s medical marijuana, but do it in an industrial area. This is residential, near a school.”
See that ‘For sale’ sign, said a woman, who is a retired teacher.
“I’m out of here. It is not good for the neighbourhood.”
The District of Maple Ridge acknowledges the neighbours’ frustration and said it is trying to determine if the property can be targeted for building, electrical or plumbing violations.
“But as far as the use goes, we can’t touch that,” said Liz Holitzki, director of licences, permits and bylaws.
“I am sure it is very frustrating for the residents who live around it. It’s just that the federal legislation overrides any of the municipal legislation here.”
As of Oct. 30 – 12,225 people hold an “authorization to possess” dried marijuana under the marijuana medical access regulations in Canada. Of those, 7,277 hold a “personal use production license, while 2,163 hold a “designated-person” license, allowing someone else to grow their marijuana for them.
Health Canada proposes phasing out the production of marijuana for medical purposes by individuals in their homes and communities. But those changes won’t come before 2014.
In the meantime, municipalities, which pay the brunt of policing and fire costs when marijuana production goes awry, are fighting back with their own bylaws.
The City of Pitt Meadows put rules in place last year that prohibit growing cannabis for medicinal use by others in residential and agricultural zones. Growing medical marijuana for personal use is still permitted in the city.
Pitt Meadows bylaws officer Leslie Elchuk says the marijuana bylaw, plus a public safety inspection program, which targets homes consuming a lot of electricity, have all but eliminated marijuana growops in the city.
Pitt Meadows has found just two this year, compared to more than 20 in Maple Ridge, including a medical marijuana growop on 112th Avenue that had seven times more pot than permitted.
Health Canada has no rules around indoor medical grow operations and schools.
Marijuana medical access regulations require people to provide details about the production site, including a description of the security measures that will be taken to protect the supply at the production and storage sites.
Outdoor medical growops can’t be located near schools, daycares or playgrounds.
As for the Maple Ridge property with alleged gang ties, Health Canada was unable to comment on it.
“Due to privacy considerations, Health Canada cannot comment on instances where an individual may have been found to be non-compliant,” said spokesperson Gary Holub.
However, under the marijuana medical access program, people with criminal records for drug offences 10 years prior are prohibited from growing medical marijuana.
Despite assurances from Health Canada, Maple Ridge fire chief Dane Spence has yet to find a medical marijuana grow operation that is complying with provincial fire and building regulations.
“We typically only discover them when they are on fire,” said Spence, who was unaware of the medical growop on Skillen St., although police are familiar with the property.
“There is nothing safe about them.”