Health Canada's plan to phase out home-based growers of legal medical marijuana in favour of licensed commercial operators has Canadian municipalities scrambling to come up with bylaws to regulate the industry.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced last December that Ottawa was revamping the rules governing medicinal pot after a decade of exponential rise in the number of licensed growers, more than 26,000 last year from just 500 in 2002.
The federal government will be getting out of the business of growing pot itself and bar production in private homes.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities welcomed the changes because it's hoped they will ease the strain on local police and fire services dealing with safety problems connected with licensed grow-ops and unauthorized production under legitimate licences.
But it's left municipal governments racing to draft changes to local bylaws covering commercial grow-ops or clarify how existing rules will apply.
British Columbia accounts for the majority of licensed grow-ops, most in the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley area, and some local municipalities want to have their own restrictions in place before the new federal regulations are implemented next year, the Vancouver Sun reports.
Surrey, the sprawling suburb southeast of Vancouver, has amended its zoning bylaws to require public hearings for any proposed grow-ops, the Sun said. Maple Ridge, northeast of the city, wants to limit commercial pot production to agricultural zones, something both Richmond and Vancouver itself are considering.
According to the Sun, Maple Ridge grow-ops would face the same building restrictions as odour-emitting industries such as pig farms and mushroom growers. The operations would also have to be at least 200 metres away from a school.
“The sense is that there have been a fair number of problems associated with this use in other areas, even industrial, because you’ve got a multi-tenanted structure. It can cause problems,” Maple Ridge district planner Diana Hall, who drafted the bylaw, told the Sun.
“The thought is that locating it in an agricultural zone will be an improvement.”
In Surrey, the city's zoning bylaw would allow large-scale grow-ops in commercial or agricultural areas, but all proposals would have to undergo a full rezoning process, including a public hearing.
“If it’s not controlled through a rezoning and public hearing process, then you can’t gauge the community impacts,” city solicitor Craig MacFarlane told the Sun. “And there are a lot of community impacts — security, odour, public safety, hazardous materials, chemicals.”
Both Vancouver and Richmond, which combines considerable farmland with mushrooming urban development, plan to wait for the new federal regulations to take effect before revising their bylaws, the Sun said.
Carli Edwards, Vancouver's assistant director of inspections, said pot grow-ops would likely be labelled as agricultural operations under existing rules, and there are limited areas in the city where you can farm. But she said the new federal regulations should help the city better track legal pot growing.
“Right now we have dozens of growing operations with Health Canada permits happening in the city of Vancouver and we don’t know where they are," she told the Sun.
The current environment has led to some shady situations, with licensed grow-ups sometimes busted for cultivating more than the amount of pot allowed, presumably to sell on the street.
Police in Abbotsford last month raided one home which had a permit to grow 35 plants but was found to have 260, according to the Abbotsford Times.