Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jan 2014
Source: Tri-Cities Now, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Glacier Community Media
Author: Sam Smith


City Puts Medical Marijuana Facility On Notice

The City of Coquitlam is trying to shut down a grow-op in
Maillardville whose four tenants were licensed by Health Canada to
grow medical marijuana for personal use, but which never had a
business licence from the city allowing it to operate.

The tenants are represented by high-profile lawyer John Conroy, who
has provided legal services to "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery, as well as
the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver, VANDU (the
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) and the BC Compassion Club.

While Conroy is providing legal expertise to the unidentified tenants,
he has not said they plan to sue the city.

"It's Health Canada that dropped the ball and didn't work something
out with the various districts and municipalities so there was proper
inspection and so on," Conroy said Monday afternoon at a
council-in-committee meeting. Meanwhile, the landlord of the building
- - the address of which the Tri-Cities NOW has chosen not to publish
for security reasons - is upset the city wants to shut down the operation.

"It's just really sad because it's their medicine," Melanie Balletta
told the Tri-Cities NOW in a phone interview Tuesday. "The fire
department went in there and they were not over their limit. It was
nothing illegal."

Health Canada issued permits to the tenants in February 2012 to grow
medical marijuana for personal use, but the federal government is
winding that program down, meaning the licences will no longer be
valid by the end of March. The tenants were hoping the city would give
them a temporary use permit so they could produce medical marijuana
until then, but council unanimously turned down their request Monday

Balletta said the city has also threatened to fine her $150 for each
day pot has been grown in the building without a business licence.
Since the grow-op has been operating for about two years, that figure
could be in the $100,000 range.

The city, meanwhile, says a dollar figure has not been worked

The city's involvement with the grow-op began last March, when
firefighters attempted to do a routine inspection at the building. "We
do annual building inspections, but they couldn't gain entry to this
one at first," fire chief Wade Pierlot told the Tri-Cities NOW. "As
per protocol they booted up the authority of the fire inspector who
can enter properties without a warrant."

That's when firefighters found what Pierlot and Coquitlam Mayor
Richard Stewart described as "a large collection" of marijuana plants.
Both said they did not want to give a specific number, citing security

The building is zoned industrial, and the city allows the production
of medical marijuana only in areas designated "special use." All of
the buildings in those areas are near Lougheed Highway in southwest

Coquitlam and are already occupied by businesses not growing medical
marijuana - meaning there's no place within Coquitlam someone wanting
to cultivate the substance could legally set up shop.

Balletta admits it was a mistake not to get a business licence, but
claims since the pot was for personal use she and her tenants didn't
think they needed one.

"At the time they leased the building there was no bylaw for medical
marijuana," she said. "They wanted an industrial location in a quiet
area not close to schools."

Stewart says he's not opposed to medical marijuana, and was offered
THC pills for pain, but decided to go with another prescription instead.

"As someone who suffers from chronic pain, I completely understand and
support the uses of medicinal marijuana," he told the Tri-Cities NOW.
"But this isn't that. If you're producing anything outside of the
proper zoning, well, you can't do that."

Stewart said he's not sure what kind of a fine may be levied against
the grow-op - the city doesn't have the jurisdiction to shut it down -
but did take issue with the size of it.

"It's a very large operation," he said. He added he's heard
anecdotally of people buying prescription licences on the black market
and using them as a cover to produce and sell marijuana.

"The RCMP has confirmed that this happens," he said. "I'm not saying
that's the case here. That's just what I've heard."

Balletta said that's not what's happening at her location.

"It's definitely a legal medical marijuana grow facility, just not in
the right zoning," she said. "It is not, as he stated, illegal. We had
tenants who were licensed by the federal government to produce those

Since the city voted down the option of a temporary use permit,
Balletta said she's worried about the safety of her tenants.

"I have fears, definitely," she said. "Because they kept it low-key
for a reason, obvious reasons. You don't want to invite crime. But now
they made it very public and I just hope our tenants remain safe."

Beyond that, she said she's concerned her next tenants will be
industrial in nature, which could create problems for nearby residents
and businesses.

"Now we will be leasing it to industrial and the noises and the big
trucks will be back," she said. "We didn't want to put an industrial
machine shop there just for the noise, because neighbours would
complain about our noise."

She said she reluctantly gave her tenants an immediate notice to shut
down, and expects them to follow it.

"In any event it was going to end March 30," she said of the federal
government's changing rules for medical marijuana production. "We
thought we would be successful until then."

The new rules will ban production for personal use, instead allowing
only those supplying legal dispensaries and pharmacies to supply
medical marijuana.

Conroy, meanwhile, said issues with medical marijuana grow-ops have
been exaggerated.

"The problem has been widespread information often in the media, and
my information is that it's grossly exaggerated in terms of some of
these risks of fire, mold, public safety and so on," he said.
"Certainly not in relation to illegal operations, but I'm talking in
terms of legal medical operations."

He also suggested legalizing marijuana, as two U.S. states have
recently done, would be a better option.

"The situation has changed. You've heard of Colorado, no doubt. You've
heard of Washington state. There's over 22 medical states now approved
in the U.S., so what's that then? "That's been far more effective at
getting rid of all the illegal drug operations that they've had." 
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