Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald wants the federal government to strengthen the rules around medical cannabis production in wake of what she says is a growing problem in the municipality.
MacDonald recently launched a petition on the issue — which will need 500 signatures before it can be presented to the House of Commons by Chatham-Kent—Leamington MP Dave Epp.
The petition calls on Ottawa to reform licensing and oversight on production of cannabis for personal medical use, and give provinces and municipalities a role in regulation and enforcement.
While large-scale cannabis growers operate under heavy regulations, MacDonald wants to see stronger oversight of production that is authorized through federal rules around personal production for medical purposes.
"The federal government has failed to subject personal registered medical cannabis production to examination and inspection, allowing grey and black market cannabis operations to flourish under this program," the petition dated May 20 states.
According to police, many grow-ops are exploiting the system set up by Health Canada for personal medical use of marijuana, by overgrowing cannabis that's meant for medical purposes and diverting the excess plants to the black market.
With the regular commercial growers, complaints for issues such as excessive odours can be dealt with through Health Canada.
But with these operations, due to the lack of regulations, the municipality has little recourse aside from zoning, she said."You can't let this be the wild west, with no rules and regulations, and then don't give lower tiers [of government], the ones that are most affected by this, don't give them any power," she said.
Grower designation being exploited: OPP
With a doctor's approval, the federal government allows people to grow their own cannabis for medical use. They can also designate others to grow cannabis for them, subject to certain requirements.
But, according to OPP Det. Insp. Jim Walker, who is with PJFCET, these designations are being exploited by criminals.
He said officers have seen significant rise in the number of cannabis production sites operating illegally around the province, the majority of which were authorized by Health Canada.
He's seen cases where a grower might be licensed to grow 1,200 plants, but has as many as 70,000 to 90,000.
"Not everybody that has personal or designated production registration through Health Canada is abusing it," he said.
"There's quite a few that use it for the purposes it was outlined to be, but we have found that organized crime and criminal enterprises are exploiting the loopholes and the lack of accountability on it, to significantly produce large, large quantities of illegal cannabis."
He noted that illegal cannabis is being traded across the border for other drugs including fentanyl, as well as firearms.
"When you're buying from the illegal market, you are funding other criminality and putting money in the pockets of organized crime," he said.
Health Canada was asked to respond to this story but did not provide comment in time for publication.
Millions worth of cannabis seized
In recent months, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP)-led Provincial Joint Force Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET) has conducted several busts in the municipality, seizing millions in illegally grown pot.
"Say two years ago, it was unheard of that there were raids," MacDonald said.
"And then, they're bringing in millions of dollars worth of cash and finished product, machinery and raw product. So it has definitely grown in size and capacity."