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New rules for home grown cannabis could create safety concerns in the city: police chief

Everything old is new again in the world of home grown cannabis, but there won’t be a proliferation of micro grow operations in Nelson despite the new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.

A federal court ruling in February — that the system was unfair to medical marijuana users who wanted to grow their own medicine, or designate someone to do it for them — has now opened the door to small amounts of legal home cultivation.

Although the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which took effect Wednesday (August 24), appear to be similar to the pre-2014 home growing licences the former Conservative government tried to outlaw (forcing people to buy only from licensed commercial producers), there is little doubt some people with licenses will continue to grow cannabis as they do already, said Nelson Police Department chief constable Paul Burkart, and others will see it as a good alternative to buying it from one of the approved federal grows.

But he doesn’t see there being a proliferation of home growing operations.

“I think that most people will find growing their own product is more difficult and more of a hassle than they think,” he said.

The city’s mayor and the chair of the Nelson Police Board agreed.

“I don’t believe there will be a huge spike in people cultivating their own marijuana,” in Nelson, said Mayor Deb Kozak.

With approval according to ACMPR rules, people can produce five plants per day indoors for each daily gram of marijuana they are authorized to use. With the new ruling, an injunction that exempted previous licensed growers from criminal prosecution is still in effect.

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Currently in B.C. there are around 70,000 medical marijuana users receiving cannabis from the 34 licensed producers, with commercial producers being the only legal source of cannabis seeds or starter plants.

There is cause for concern on a municipal level for legal grow-ops in residential areas of Nelson, with a variety of associated health and safety concerns, said Kozak.

“However, we have limited jurisdiction over what people grow or do in the privacy of their own homes,” she said. “I think there will need to be an extensive education program on safety and appropriate conditions.”

Burkart was concerned about smells, moulds and mildew arising from cannabis cultivation. Although there are effective filters available, he said, it is a relatively expensive proposition.

“Not everyone will be able to control the smell and this may be a concern for neighbours. We have this concern presently with some of the existing marijuana grows in homes,” Burkart explained.

“And after seeing the problems with moulds and mildews in houses that I have been in, I personally would not buy a house that has had a grow inside.”

One or two plants is not a concern, he noted, but the new regulations could allow individuals to grow up to 30 or 40 plants, as it allows someone to grow for themselves and one other person with a licence.

Since it can be difficult to control humidity in a larger grow operation in a small area of a house, mould and mildew would become a concern for those that presently live in the residence and for future home buyers.

In addition, there is a danger from carbon dioxide generation as well as herbicide and pesticide use in a confined space for a larger scale grow operation.

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“People must do their research and, if possible, speak to professionals before they try this on their own,” he said.

Security is another issue. Home invasions are possible for those that are growing, as illustrated by the frequency of robberies of coastal grow operations.

“Although they claim that grows which will be permitted will be smaller than those that we have come across in the past, some may still be large enough to attract criminals,” Burkart said.

Several other changes that will make home invasions and robberies less attractive to criminals are home owners should not be in possession of large amounts of ill-gotten cash and they will be more willing to contact the police should an incident occur at their home.

In the past, many of the grow operators were not keen on calling the police to talk about their illegal grow operation being “ripped” – that will change with legalization.

Statistics show that homes with marijuana grow operations are at a much higher risk of fire, Burkart said. In the past, the illegal grow operations have often been set up and wired by people who do not know what they are doing and could create very dangerous electrical issues.

“I am hoping by legalizing these grows that those starting the grows would bring in professionals to assist with the grow set-up and electrical wiring, which should reduce the chance of fire,” Burkart said.

With legalization, people may also be better able to control moisture, herbicide and pesticide use as they are more freely able to vent grow operations without the need to avoid detection by law enforcement.

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There have been problems with grow operations in the city in the past.

“We have had both fires and robberies in homes in the Nelson area that can be linked specifically to the home containing a marijuana grow operation,” said Burkart. “Again, I don’t know if that will become worse or not with more grows.”

The new system to provide reasonable access to cannabis will be monitored by Health Canada, but other models of delivery — such as pharmacies — will also be considered.

The new regulations are not considered to be a long-term plan for medical access, but are instead speaking to the federal court ruling. A federal government task force has been struck to determine how to legalize cannabis and further regulate recreational marijuana.

If people are determined to grow cannabis at home the most important way to avoid concerns with a home-based marijuana grow operation include ensuring the research is done on how to safely grow, and consulting professionals when installing a setup.

“As this is very early stages, we have not yet had the conversation between the various city departments — police, fire, development services — and council,” Burkart concluded.

“I am sure as this develops, we will be looking at ways to ensure that the grow operations are safe for the people setting them up and unobtrusive for those living around them.”