Township demands Health Canada notification on residential medical marijuana addresses

North Dundas motivated by health, safety, fire, Building Code compliance concerns

WINCHESTER — Personally licensed medical marijuana growers may be damaging their homes, potentially turning them into moldy and unhealthy fire hazards legally stuffed with hundreds of plants, the Township of North Dundas fears.

The municipality has intervened in the past to impose repairs on a house known to have been heavily damaged by a grow-op, in that case an illegal one that came to light through police action.

Frustrated at being kept in the dark on the locations of legal, medical grow operations, the township is lobbying Health Canada for the addresses of program registrants to ensure Ontario Building Code and fire safety regulations are being followed in those homes as well. But the federal agency refuses to comply, citing “privacy concerns,” council heard at its May 8 meeting, where a resolution was passed demanding that Health Canada notify municipalities, fire officials and police of involved sites and individuals.

Circulated to all Ontario municipalities, the resolution further observes that local governments are “charged with the responsibility of ensuring safe buildings.” That includes structures used in marijuana production, which “may require modifications to ensure healthy air quality for the inhabitants and to prevent building deterioration.”

The move comes as the township was recently shocked to learn of the sheer number of plants each personal licensee may grow inside a home, regardless of square footage — and how the current licensing process leaves it up to the applicant to inform local officials.

Mayor Eric Duncan said the township recently became aware of a dual-licensed address because of a property-standards issue at the site. Each license allows 146 plants on the premises, for a total of 292 in that instance. And that’s only half-way to the potential maximum. Duncan also said he understood the licensee in this case was growing on behalf of someone else requiring it for medical purposes — as allowed by the license.

“Essentially right now for medical purposes, someone can get … up to four licenses for a dwelling unit,” Township Planning Director Calvin Pol told council.  “They’re supposed to notify us when they apply and they’re supposed to notify us when they get the license,” Pol added, suggesting it simply wasn’t happening. “We want to see Health Canada notifying us rather than the applicant because we … don’t know if this is even occurring at all.”

License applications ought to be circulated to municipalities for comment on the “appropriateness” of the location, he said. “There’s a whole building science part of it that may or may not be addressed by Health Canada.”

The township hopes Health Canada will “pick up the ball, and make sure these people are notifying us,” the director said. “There are health and safety concerns with regards to the [dwelling] units. Indoor air quality is a big issue, too. The other one is the humidity levels that you get … when you have that many plants growing.”

He also highlighted electrical safety concerns that may exist in the absence of notification and inspection.  “Are they running a hundred extension cords to … power the lamps?”

The licensed individual can be a tenant in someone else’s building, Pol also pointed out. And he confirmed that some licensees are permitted grow on behalf others. “So this is a health issue, a safety issue that we’re worried about.”

Though he took pains to explain his support for growing medical marijuana and the country’s incoming decriminalization policy in general, the mayor opined that “146 plants in a residential home is a little excessive.”

Duncan called on Health Canada to consult with municipalities and suggested capping the number of plants grown in a home through municipal zoning.

“One person consuming 146 plants for medical marijuana, they must have a serious medical issue,” he noted. “But I think if they’re going to be growing [consuming] those volumes … they’ve got to be in a commercial setting and/or they’re purchased from” one of 55 licensed Ontario retailers.

The current example in North Dundas “is not right,” he argued, “and not what people support” as part of medical marijuana policy in Canada.

“This is in a residential neighbourhood; they are growing marijuana,” a man interjected from the audience, after Mayor Eric Duncan refused his request to comment from the floor (normal practice at council meetings.)

“It has to be banned, period!” exclaimed the man, who identified himself as Brian Campbell-Kelly.

“I’m going to ask you to stop,” said Duncan. “Councillor Fraser has the floor. He is commenting and council is commenting. That’s the way our process works.”

Fraser, also serving as deputy chief of the Winchester Fire Station, asked Pol if other municipalities were aware that they aren’t being informed of the legal, home-based grow-ops in their midst. “Are we on an island?” The councillor also questioned Health Canada’s methodology for “determining what is safe … and the danger, or the perceived danger.”

“We’re not aware of what they used for standards and how they established the number of plants,” replied Pol.

The director said other municipalities are becoming aware of the issue, referring to another unnamed municipality with concerns about four registrations under one roof.

The issue had Councillor Al Armstrong expressing concern for landlords. Though not “naive” to think the owner should know all tenant activities, Armstrong suggested the quantity of plants involved bordered on “a personal business because you’re drawing on extra power, you’re doing things to impact on my home, which is not necessarily what I rented to you for.”

He added, “I could see that this would run into all sorts of issues with the Landlord-Tenant Act,” and further speculated, “It’s not just a small thing. Your house burns down because there’s four grow-ops going on there — legal — however, my house still burnt to the ground.”

Mayor Duncan noted the issue can touch any landlord because it’s not just medical marijuana users who are taking out licenses. “I want medical marijuana so I’ll have Al grow it, who rents an apartment in Winchester,” the mayor said, speaking rhetorically.

Ironically, North Dundas is on track to host a large-scale commercial cannabis production facility in Chesterville’s former Nestlé plant. But the developers of that multi-million-dollar operation are having to comply with multiple inspections, the mayor said.

Mayor Eric Duncan reads out the resolution, below.

 

In the video below, members of council vote unanimously for the resolution demanding notification of medical marijuana home-grow applications from Health Canada.

 

 

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