Victoria News

Home grow-ops for medical pot to end: Health Canada

The federal government is poised to eliminate licensed medical marijuana grow-ops in homes, recognizing long-standing safety concerns and connections to the illegal drug trade.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced this week Health Canada is getting out of the growing business and will phase in a new system of strictly regulated commercial producers.

"We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity, and putting the health and safety of Canadians at risk,"Aglukkaq said in a statement. "These changes will make it far more difficult for people to game the system."

Medical marijuana growers have operated for years without needing municipal government or police approval and are not subject to health, fire, building or plumbing inspections.

The Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. said marijuana grow-ops, both legal and illegal, are 24 times more likely to catch fire than the average home.

"I can tell you from my experience, when you walk into a legal (grow-op) versus an illegal one, there isn't a lot of difference in the safety hazards," said Victoria Fire Chief Jeff Lambert.

He echoed a statement from the provincial chiefs that they are not passing judgment on marijuana use. "It's not about prohibiting marijuana from those who need it."

While he admits large-scale grow-ops aren't rampant within Victoria's boundaries, Lambert said the federal changes will only benefit public safety in the Capital Region.

"Everything's done in secrecy, so when our fire crews show up, they don't know what they're walking into," he said. "It places the firefighters at risk, and I think the occupants as well."

Medicinal marijuana users have ballooned from about 500 in 2002 to nearly 26,000 today, according to Health Canada.

The new rules will also streamline medical marijuana prescriptions, allowing family doctors to write prescriptions directly. Under existing rules, patients had to be referred to a specialist, who then had to submit multiple forms to Health Canada for approval.

The cost of medical pot is also expected to increase significantly, as the $5/gram federal subsidization will come to an end.

Health Canada intends to implement the new system by March 31, 2014, at which point all current possession or production licences for pot will expire.

The Victoria Police Department refused comment, but said it supports a statement from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which applauded the changes.

A 75-day comment public feedback process is now open (bit.ly/U4xtqi) and will end on Feb. 28, 2013.

The details of the new regulations are available on the ministry’s website (bit.ly/SFDUlX).

– with files from Kevin Diakiw, Black Press

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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