New marijuana laws give more power to police, cities
Delta is determined to keep a short leash on marijuana grow-ops within the municipality, thanks in part to a new federal law that will provide better transparency to police and cities.
As of April 1, an estimated 11,500 legal marijuana grow-ops run by licensed users authorized by Health Canada are supposed to either shut down or apply for a business license within the municipality in which it operates.
On Jan. 6, Delta Council directed staff to bring forward amendments to the Delta Zoning Bylaw to prohibit all aspects of the growing, production, manufacturing, testing, storage and sales of medical marijuana within its boundaries. Businesses wishing to establish medical marijuana grow-ops in Delta will be required to apply for site specific zoning, which has yet to be determined by council.
It's a marked change from the old laws, which allowed grow-ops to exist in a practically clandestine manner with approval required only from the federal government.
"One of the things that we noticed very early on was that the old legislation created some difficulties in the neighbourhoods in which they were going to be placed mainly because there was going to be no checks or balances," said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.
She said that sometimes the municipality would only learn about these locations after police investigations were launched into homes suspected of usage as a grow-op.
Currently, Delta has permitted one legal marijuana grow-op to operate within an industrially-zoned area of Delta. Jackson said Delta and other municipalities are reluctant to permit marijuana grow-ops on farmland or in residential areas because of the risk of violence and criminal elements associated with the narcotic.
"It's kind of funny because Vancouver has said, well we will only allow them in agricultural areas," said Jackson. "But they don't have any agricultural areas."
Delta Police Chief Const. Jim Cessford welcomes the fact police will no longer be "kept in the dark" about where grow-ops are located in the community. Under the old laws, they would usually find out about a grow-op only by calling Health Canada after investigating the home for unusual electricity consumption or neighbourhood complaints.
"We would call them and say we have authorization to execute a search warrant at this location," he said. "Can you tell us if it's a registered grow-op. Sometimes they'd say yeah, and obviously when they said no then we moved ahead."
Sometimes, police would still execute a search warrant on a registered grow-op if there was suspicion the facility was in possession of more plants than it was licensed to produce.
The new law will require medical marijuana producers to notify local police and government about their intent to grow. Cessford said he has already received a half dozen notices from growers in advance of the changes.
Growers would be required to apply for a business license from the municipality, while Delta Police will provide criminal background checks on applicants to assess whether the business poses a risk to public safety.
"With these grow-ops sometimes they present the opportunity for crime so sometimes you get those home invasions or business invasions so one of the things that we'll be really, really looking at closely here is the security arrangements," he said.
Cessford said grow-ops with alarms, walls, or security cameras present a lower likelihood criminals will target the home or business. The new law will allow police the opportunity for inspections of legal grow-ops to make assessments on security.
"But I think it's fair to say right now there are more unanswered questions than answered. There are still a whole lot of things out there that we're unsure about."