Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jan 2014
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: Brandon Barrett
Note: With files from Alison Taylor


Health Canada Has No Authority To Ensure Home Growers Cease

Eighteen licensed medical marijuana growers in Whistler will be forced
to close their doors in the coming months thanks to changes in federal

This has local officials concerned about potential safety and legal
risks these home grow-ops could pose without a serious plan to enforce
their closing.

The concerns centre around Health Canada's lack of authority to ensure
these grow facilities phase out production in a safe and timely manner.

As of April 1, Canadian individuals producing medicinal pot under
Ottawa's Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) will no longer be
permitted to operate licensed home grow-ops, turning the production
over to approved commercial operators.

"It's a public health issue and a public safety issue," said
Whistler's outgoing Fire Chief Rob Whitton, speaking to Pique during
an interview on his more than 10 years with the resort's fire department.

"My concern with the changes that are happening, because they're not
going to reissue these licenses... (is) what do you do with those 18
homes? Is there mould remediation (needed), is there mould growing?"

There are now more than 38,000 Canadians participating in Ottawa's
medical marijuana access program, up from less than 500 in 2002, and
after the current regulations are repealed on March 31, Health Canada
will no longer have the authority to request the inspection of private
dwellings that were cultivating medical marijuana.

Health Canada is also not permitted to inform municipalities of the
location of home grow-ops, presenting a further barrier to ensuring
enforcement, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"Health Canada won't have any authority to ensure the remediation (of
these grow-op homes) takes place, so that's a concern, but even under
the Privacy Act, Health Canada can't tell us where they are, so we
won't know whether they have been remediated," she said.

"They've allowed these (grow-ops) to pop up across the country, and
now they're moving into a new regulatory framework and are effectively
washing their hands of what they've created. There does seem to be a
gap here."

Health Canada only tells police if a grower they are investigating is
licensed when officers are about to execute a search warrant,
according to Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair.

"This is something that's fairly new, so we're still trying to
ascertain what our strategy will be," he said.

"But if (home growers) continue to operate, those places will become
illegal grow-ops.

"I'm hopeful these individuals will respect the law."

Health Canada will provide guidance to all current MMAR program
participants "so they are aware of their responsibilities with regards
to disposing of their dried marihuana and plants," wrote media
relations officer Sara Lauer in an email.

"Health Canada expects participants to comply with all federal laws,
as well as, provincial/municipal bylaws and remediation requirements,
where they exist," she added.

In preparation for April's new regulations, RMOW staff is drafting a
zoning amendment bylaw to regulate commercial production in the
resort. The bylaw, expected for council's consideration in the New
Year, could regulate the future location of commercial grow operations
in the community.

Licensed producers will have to meet Health Canada's list of stringent
security and quality control requirements, including providing the
operation's location to police and fire departments, employing a
quality assurance staff member to approve the quality of marijuana,
and ensuring the production site has 24/7 surveillance systems.

"Security, inventory, quality and environmental controls are among a
myriad of Health Canada requirements, and all transactions are done
through a bonded courier," said Whistler Medical Marijuana Company
founder Chris Pelz, who's currently seeking a commercial grow licence
for his 5,100 square foot industrial facility in Function Junction.
"Health Canada has done their homework and want the (commercial grow)
facilities to be safe and somewhat benign."

Pelz has recently secured an investment from PharmaCan Capital, a
merchant bank focused solely on the medical marijuana industry, with
plans to offer organic cannabis grown from pioneer strains on a small
scale, if approved.

Pelz doesn't think the community's remaining home growers will
undermine commercial operations if they continue to produce marijuana
for the black market after April 1.

"I think what you're seeing is a real evolution of the acceptance of
marijuana and cannabis as a huge and viable medicinal source going
forward," he said.

"The momentum behind that is simply going to be too great for the
private or illegal growers to be competitive in the

With files from Alison Taylor  
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