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Surrey clamps down on medical marijuana users, growers

Since 2003, people with certain medical conditions – such as glaucoma, spinal cord injury, pain or nausea from cancer or HIV and epileptic seizures – have been allowed to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.  - Leader file photo
Since 2003, people with certain medical conditions – such as glaucoma, spinal cord injury, pain or nausea from cancer or HIV and epileptic seizures – have been allowed to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
— image credit: Leader file photo

People in Surrey who use or grow medical marijuana will soon have to obtain municipal permits and growers will have to relocate to an agricultural area.

Surrey council endorsed a plan that would place restrictions on how and where medical marijuana is grown and stored in this city.

Since 2003, people with certain medical conditions – such as glaucoma, spinal cord injury, pain or nausea from cancer or HIV and epileptic seizures – have been allowed to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Others, who obtained federal licences, have been allowed to grow pot in their home to supply those who need it for medical reasons.

The City of Surrey has long believed the medical grow-ops are often wired incorrectly and pose a significant fire hazard, with structures housing the grow-ops becoming up to 24 times more likely to burn.

The city also states the grows are often targets for violent grow rips.

While Health Canada stipulates municipal permits are required, federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq wrote in a letter to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in April, 2010: “Health Canada does not, however, verify compliance with these requirements either before or after licensing.”

She also referred to a “reform exercise” being undertaken.

Even though that was a year ago, there has been no evidence locally of a federal reform exercise to date, and Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said the Health Canada requirements continue to be ignored.

“They’re not following any of the guidelines that Health Canada has given them, not in one single case,” Garis said Monday.

The exception, he said, is that several applications for inspections have been submitted, but denied, because the grow-op was not in an agricultural setting.

Health Canada told The Leader Monday it was still working on the reform exercise.

“Health Canada is currently considering longer-term measures to reform the Marijuana Medical Access Program and its regulations,” a spokesman for the ministry said. “In its considerations, the department is focussing on three key objectives: public health, safety and security; reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes; and examining the overall costs to Health Canada.

“Any changes to the program will balance the need to provide legal access to this controlled substance with the government’s responsibility to regulate it.”

A corporate report to Surrey council Monday recommends a bylaw that would require permits for anyone using medical marijuana, another for those using and growing pot, and a separate permit for those growing marijuana for others.

Under the bylaw, if a person refuses to comply, they may be convicted of an indictable offense.

Citing privacy reasons, Health Canada has not provided information about medical grow-ops in specific municipalities. Health Canada does say that 3,627 people in this province have federal authority to possess medical marijuana. About 30 per cent of those are allowed to produce pot for other people who use it.

Garis has said municipalities participating in the Electrical Fire and Safety Initiative have found 50 medical grow operations during their inspections.

The bylaw also indicates the growers would have to comply with local zoning requirements.

Garis said that would likely mean they would have to relocate to an agricultural area.

@diakiw

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