Tell us where people are growing medical cannabis, town asks Health Canada

A fire at a home where 200 medical cannabis plants were being grown highlights gaps in federal regulations that are leaving municipalities unaware of potential dangers, the mayor of an eastern Ontario township says.

The Township of North Dundas, about an hour south of Ottawa, passed a motion May 8 calling on Health Canada to require municipalities to be notified when a licence to grow hundreds of medical cannabis plants has been issued to a patient.

Without the notification, Mayor Eric Duncan said neighbours are left vulnerable.

North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan says the township is primarily concerned about people growing a large number plants without adequate safety measures. 0:21

“We’re very concerned. If you don’t have the proper electrical and HVAC system for moisture it could cause mould and mildew, and if the electrical system is messed with and not done properly it creates a lot of safety issues, like a large fire,” he said.

According to Duncan, someone called the fire department in February to report that an electrical cable outside their neighbour’s home was on fire.

OPP in Winchester confirmed the home contained more than 200 cannabis plants, and that two licences had been issued by Health Canada allowing for them. Duncan said police told him each licence allowed for 146 plants, for a total of 292.

‘So surprised about the volume’

Police are investigating an alleged electricity theft at the home but no charges have been laid. Officials also found mould growing inside, Duncan said.

“I was very surprised, and most had to read it twice and say, ‘Really? That many plants?’ Everyone is so surprised about the volume that could be grown in a residential home,” he said. 

Under Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), an individual authorized to produce cannabis for their own medical use doesn’t have to notify local authorities, but commercial cannabis operations must notify, in writing, the municipality and its fire and police departments.

Cannabis plants grow in a makeshift greenhouse in the home of a man in the Township of North Dundas. He’s upset that the township wants Health Canada to tell them he’s growing medical cannabis. (Laurie Fagan, CBC )

Duncan said the town supports patients who grow and use medical cannabis, but that there are limits.

“If you’re getting above a certain threshold where there’s hundreds of plants, we should get notification from Health Canada. And I don’t think that is too much to ask, but we were told for privacy reasons they couldn’t provide that,” he said.

“We just want to know what’s going on here. How many others in our community are doing it not to standard and how many might need a permit to make sure it’s done safely?”

‘It’s hysteria,’ medical cannabis user says

One man in the township — who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity over fears his home could be broken into — is growing 150 cannabis plants with a Health Canada licence.

Several years ago he was being prescribed seven different opioids to cope with a debilitating injury and PTSD, and said cannabis enabled him to finally kick his opioid addiction.

A man who grows marijuana for medical purposes and has a license to do so says making it mandatory to notify the municipality would violate his privacy. 0:18

In an interview, the man said he’s furious with council’s motion asking Health Canada to reveal his status as a medical cannabis user and grower.

“It was draconian…. This is my medical condition, and my medicine, and it’s not for recreational use,” he said. “Without this stuff my life is not functional. I’ve been able to come out of the opioid cloud and resume a normal life.”

‘Highly prejudiced views’

People who use medical cannabis still face a lot of stigma, he added.

“It’s hysteria, and what effect would it have on my business and my professional reputation? These are things that people have highly prejudiced views about.”

The man said he’s abiding by the rules and made the necessary upgrades to his electrical system to safely accommodate his grow operation. His licence allows him to grow 195 plants to meet his daily medical needs, as prescribed by his doctor.

The man said he is abiding by the rules and made the necessary upgrades to accommodate his grow operation. (Laurie Fagan, CBC)

His growing room has high intensity grow lights, and the pungent smell of the plants travels through venting pipes to a carbon filter for cleaning. There was no smell was present in the room right next to the growing room.

No one from Health Canada was available for an interview, but in an emailed statement the department said individuals producing “a limited amount of cannabis” for their own medical use don’t have to notify authorities.

The department will ensure property owners have consented to grow operations and that growers must comply with municipal laws, including bylaws dealing with electrical and fire safety.

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