Pubdate: Fri, 08 Sep 2006
Source: Goldstream Gazette (Victoria, CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Goldstream News Gazette
Author: Edward Hill
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


West Shore municipalities are joining forces to bring  the hammer down
on homeowners who allow marijuana  grow-ops or drug labs on their property.

Langford, Colwood and View Royal are drafting common  bylaws that
would hand all costs - including police,  firefighters, building
inspectors and cleanup crews -  to the owner if drug operations cause
building code  violations.

"When a grow-op is found, it's usually at the taxpayers  expense. This
is a tool for cost recovery," said Kevin  Atkinson, Colwood's bylaw
enforcement officer.

"It makes the homeowner responsible. You can't be an  absentee
landlord. You have got to do inspections."

Atkinson said from the moment a drug operation is  located, police,
fire and other emergency and municipal  responders will be asked to
track their time for  billing to the owner.

That price tag could quickly grow to thousands of  dollars. A fire
crew of six with a truck comes in at  $600 per hour. An RCMP officer
or a drug disposal  officer costs $52 per hour, while a building
inspector  runs at $54 per hour.

Grow-op houses are typically rejigged with haphazard  venting and
electrical wiring, and the plants can  infect the house with a toxic
mould. Dangerous  chemicals from crystal meth labs seep into drywall
and  can off-gas at a later time.

Atkinson said bringing a building back to code can be  very expensive,
and would usually require gutting the  interior.

Conversely, if a grow-op is found, but the house is  still to code the
matter would be deferred to the  police.

"Our objective is public safety and public health,"  Atkinson said.
"We are dealing with criminal activity  by dealing with the health and
safety issue."

West Shore RCMP Cpl. Gord Bedingfield estimates the  community has
"hundreds" of grow-ops, and expects the  bylaws to help curb the business.

"There are hundreds we know about. They are  everywhere," Bedingfield

The three municipalities started working on common  controlled
substances bylaws after successfully  creating unified fireworks
bylaws last year.

Similar drug bylaws have been enacted in Saanich,  Surrey and other
Lower Mainland cities.

Langford has passed first reading of its bylaw, and is  bringing it to
the Ministry of Health for review. Other  municpalities expect to
bring their controlled  substances bylaws before respective councils
this fall.

View Royal administrator Mark Brennan noted the bylaws  will allow
municipalities to take an active role in  public safety, instead of
just picking up the tab.

See BYLAWS Page A4

In the past, he said, housing tenants caught with a  grow op would
disappear, while the owner would plead  ignorance.

"The onus is on the property owner, and they cannot  wash their hands
of the problem," Brennan said.

Complementing the bylaws, but unrelated to them, the  province has
handed all municipal governments the power  to request residential
electricity consumption from  B.C. Hydro.

The amended Safety Standards Act, enacted in May,  allows B.C. Hydro
to release lists of houses using more  than 93 kilowatt hours per day
of electricity, roughly  three times the provincial average.

The concept is that high consumption might point to a  marijuana
grow-op. If consumption is deemed suspicious,  municipal electrical
inspectors would give the  homeowner notice and inspect the house.

Hydro spokesperson Elisha Moreno said the program is  designed to
protect the public. She said the  residential data will not be
transferred to police,  although police can attend with an electrical

"It's not meant for police investigations," she said.  "The police can
make their own requests."

Moreno said municipalities, upon request, will receive  25 months
worth of records on flagged houses, and  software to help distinguish
high consumption from  suspicious consumption.

David Loukidelis, B.C.'s privacy commissioner, was  critical of the
legislation, saying in an April 6  notice: "(S)uch initiatives amount
to a form of  surveillance, involving compilation and use of
information about entire classes of citizens without  grounds for
individualized suspicion of wrongdoing."

Since May, only one B.C. municipality has requested  consumption
information, but the name of the community  has not been released.

Administrators from Langford, View Royal and Colwood  confirmed they
expect to request residential  electricity data for their respective

"We welcome it," said Atkinson. "It will only make it  easier for a
municipality to identify where there might  be a significant health
and safety risk."
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MAP posted-by: Derek