People living in several north Winnipeg neighbourhoods say they have become prisoners in their own homes since their neighbours sold their houses to new owners who have turned them into medical marijuana grow operations.
“The smell is horrific,” said Eddie Calisto-Tavares
Calisto-Tavares owns her own business and, like many, is now working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says in March she and her husband started going for daily walks around the neighbourhood and began to notice a strong odour around certain homes.
“We thought it was winter and probably the skunks are hibernating,” she said. “I started talking to neighbours and they said, ‘Well, that’s not skunks. That’s pot or marijuana.’ I said, ‘What? Well, why would it be smelling?’ And they said, ‘Because they’re growing it in our neighbourhoods,'” Calisto-Tavares said.
Land title permits pulled
CBC News knocked on the doors of 36 homes suspected of housing medical marijuana grow-ops. Few looked as if someone was living there, but most appeared vacant. Almost all of the houses had security cameras set up outside, and in some cases, cannabis could be smelled from the street.
CBC also pulled the land title documents and permits for each address and found 34 of the houses had recently upgraded electrical panels. Ten of the homes had previous electrical permits in which city inspectors said they had been used to grow cannabis.
On one street in Amber Trails, there are four homes being used to grow medical marijuana. A woman who answered the door at one of the houses said all are licensed by Health Canada but she couldn’t say how many plants they are allowed to grow.
“My mom takes care of that stuff,” she said.
Over in Garden City, a couple said their longtime neighbour sold the house a few years back and two young women moved in. They only stayed for a few months and told the couple they were growing cannabis for a sick grandfather. The couple grew suspicious and called the police.
“It’s a drug house, that’s why the windows are all blocked off,” said a man in his 70s who lives next to a $350,000 bungalow on a quiet street.
“The police said there was 140 plants. What kind of grandfather needs 140 plants?” said the couple.
Another couple in Valley Gardens had similar concerns about the smell coming from their neighbour’s home.
“In the summertime every day, I couldn’t even sit outside. It was really bad,” said the couple, who didn’t want to be identified for fear their neighbours may have connections to organized crime.
This is the second time the home has been used as a grow-op. A 2009 electrical permit says the foundation had to be repaired to fix a hole made to steal electricity. Another permit said the home needed to be reconnected to hydro after being used as a grow-op.
Police get multiple grow-op complaints
Winnipeg police say they receive numerous complaints about suspected cannabis grow-ops in residential neighbourhoods, and while the concerns are understandable, if the growers have a Health Canada licence for medical marijuana, there’s not much police can do.
“Cannabis grow operations may be authorized by Health Canada in which case they are legal. The Winnipeg Police Service has no authority to investigate activity which is authorized by Health Canada and presents no risk to public safety,” said Inspector Max Waddell in a statement to CBC News.
“The Winnipeg Police Service is restricted by privacy legislation, including the Personal Health Information Act, from disclosing information to the public regarding activity authorized by Health Canada,” said Waddell.