A medical marijuana grow operation was shut down temporarily after a small fire Wednesday afternoon.
The Maple Ridge Fire Department rushed to the property at 13205 Cedar Way after a passerby reported smoke billowing from a shed on a property that previously held one of the largest illegal pot crops ever seized by Ridge Meadows RCMP.
Fire chief Peter Grootendorst arrived to find light smoke billowing from the attic of a large two-storey building.
The workers on site, however, had already knocked down most of the fire, which was started accidentally by a plumber’s torch.
“I guess someone driving down the road saw the smoke. The people who were working there certainly weren’t too eager to call us,” said Grootendorst.
Ridge Meadows RCMP confirmed the property was being used to grow medical marijuana, but are investigating whether there were more plants than permitted.
Officers did not apply for a warrant to search the property, and no one was arrested.
The fire department, though, cut power to the building because it was “uncomfortable” with the electrical wiring.
Given the history of the property, Grootendorst didn’t want to take any chances.
The five-acre property, shaded by a thicket of trees and behind a large gate, was raided in 2006 after police received an anonymous tip about a large marijuana grow operation.
During the raid, police seized 6,800 marijuana plants and 39.2 kilograms (86.5 pounds) of dried marijuana worth an estimated $10 million from a large barn on the “Eighteen Carrot Farm.”
A search warrant application linked the property to two top-level Canadian snowboarders – Edward Ian Hadgkiss, an athlete who has competed in the Snowboard World Cup, as well as a former Olympian Ryan Wedding of Coquitlam.
Wedding is currently imprisoned in the U.S. for trafficking cocaine.
The property was sold to its current owner, a Port Moody resident, for $805,000 in 2008. He could not be reached for comment.
Grootendorst, like RCMP, believes marijuana growers have found a loop hole in the law that they are exploiting to turn illegal enterprises into legal ones.
In the past year, at least three former illegal grow operations became legitimate by acquiring medical marijuana licenses, including two in Maple Ridge and one in Pitt Meadows.
Health Canada grants access to marijuana for medical use to those who are suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses.
As of Oct. 30 – 12,225 people hold an “authorization to possess” dried marijuana licence under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations in Canada.
Of those, 7,277 people hold a “personal-use production licence,” while 2,163 more hold a “designated-person” licence, which allows someone else to grow their marijuana.
But the system has been criticized by police, who say production licences are frequently being purchased by criminals and attract crime.
The fire department, meanwhile, sees grow operations as inherently dangerous.
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has written to Health Canada, expressing concerns about legal marijuana operations. Health Canada intends to phase out individual production licenses by 2014.
“If these truly are legal businesses, they should comply with all the rules and regulations of the district – which would be getting electrical permits and building inspections. They would be safer,” said Grootendorst.
“We would like to know the locations so we are prepared for it if we have a fire there.”