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Richmond bans medical marijuana grow-ops

Richmond council has banned medical marijuana grow-ops, putting a stop to a potential proliferation of the commercial operations.  - Black Press
Richmond council has banned medical marijuana grow-ops, putting a stop to a potential proliferation of the commercial operations.
— image credit: Black Press

Richmond council has decided to butt out medical marijuana grow-ops in Richmond ahead of a major shift in Health Canada’s program.

The federal agency is overhauling its regulations allowing Canadians access to the drug for medical purposes. The new program will cease to allow production of medical pot in homes previously licensed by Health Canada. Instead, approved users will buy it from licensed commercial producers, which deliver via courier.

But in a recent unanimous vote, civic politicians voted to ban such producers in Richmond.

“Our take is Health Canada licenses them, but they’re requiring anybody who gets a licence to meet local zoning requirements,” said Terry Crowe, the city’s policy planning manager. “We have control over that, so if we said no, it would mean no.”

Four potential operators have applied for licences to grow medical pot in Richmond, according to Crowe. As of Thursday, Health Canada listed four approved growers on its website—none being local.

Coun. Bill McNulty said there’s always a concern about marijuana growing operations because the drug isn’t legal—except under Health Canada rules—and allowing them could lead to a “proliferation,” as no limits on producers have been set.

McNulty also said the federal agency doesn’t communicate with cities.

“That’s a flaw of the federal government, it’s not just them. They do things…and the city has to pick up the pieces.”

In 2001 the federal government introduced its medical marijuana program. It ends March 31, when all licences to possess and grow the drug expire, and licensed commercial producers become the legal distributors.

New regulations are aimed at cutting abuse and improving safety, according to a Health Canada letter to users that laid out reasons for the change.

“The high value of marijuana on the illegal market increases the risks of violent home invasion and diversion to the black market. In addition, these production operations present fire and toxic mould hazards. These risks are not only felt by the individuals licensed to grow, but potentially also by their neighbours and community members,” the letter says.

As of last fall, Health Canada had received 220 applications across Canada for production facilities, according to city staff.

Richmond council’s decision, made Dec. 16, 2013 comes as other cities also take positions. According to city staff, Chilliwack is only permitting production facilities in a single special zone, while Surrey is allowing one facility in a special zone on city-owned property.

City staff noted just 500 people had Health Canada’s authorization to possess the drug when the program began in 2001. By 2012, 21,986 people had clearance for the drug. This year, the number of approved users is expected to climb to 40,000.

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