Cannabis Call Leaves “Grey Areas” for Municipalities

Article by Luke Hendry, Intelligencer

Cannabis call leaves "grey areas" for municipalities Luke HendryLuke Hendry Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison. FILE SHARE ADJUST COMMENT PRINT A conference call between Health Canada staff and Quinte-area politicians has led to more discussion of municipal concerns about medical marijuana production, but local leaders say much work lies ahead.

A conference call between Health Canada staff and Quinte-area politicians has led to more discussion of municipal concerns about medical marijuana production, but local leaders say much work lies ahead.

The private Wednesday-afternoon call involved federal representatives and the heads of council of Hastings County, Lennox and Addington County, Belleville, Quinte West and Prince Edward County, plus senior staff.

“We didn’t get any particular avenue to change things yet,” Hastings County chief administrative officer Jim Pine said.

County Warden Rick Phillips said the call was “a start” to talks between the parties, but the issue “still has some grey areas for us.

“They indicated they will try to work with us and law enforcement agencies.”

Phillips and Lennox and Addington Warden Marg Isbester wrote in August to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark to press for more tools to prevent cannabis-related violations.

The wardens described how some people with certificates to grow marijuana for medical purposes are not complying with municipal bylaws and other regulations.

The wardens asked for more information from Health Canada and more federal support for policing cannabis-related rules. They also want the Ontario government to create new provincial offences and fines.

Pine said there was “a good exchange” Wednesday of information.

Phillips was optimistic, saying the hope is to banish growers who don’t follow the rules. He and Pine noted they have no problem with law-abiding commercial producers, but that some who obtain federal certificates for medical production exceed the number of plants they’re allowed to grow and break many other regulations.

“We’re making headway and we hope with this kind of discussion today, and maybe more in the future, and with the provincial government … we’ll be able to move them out of our area,” Phillips said.

Pine said federal officials invited municipalities to provide input during an upcoming review of the Cannabis Act.

No Health Canada officials were available Thursday for an interview and the department could not respond to questions by day’s end to any questions posed in writing, a spokesperson reported via e-mail.

Health Canada statements released this week to The Intelligencer revealed the department has received at least 32 cannabis-related complaints from municipalities.

The department added those with certificates “are required to comply with all relevant provincial/territorial and municipal laws.”

But many don’t, municipal leaders say, and despite the conference call, Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison remains frustrated.

He said federal officials expect municipalities to be able to monitor growers and enforce municipal rules, but the current system works only in theory. Bylaw officers, he said, can’t monitor an operation unless they know it exists.

“It’s absolutely useless,” he said of federal assurances. Harrison said he learns of grow ops from neighbours, not the growers or official channels.

“We have no idea where they are, what they’re doing, or what they require. But I do know they have no permits. They have no authorization by anyone in our municipality.”

And when municipal authorities complain to federal ones, he said, “They can’t tell us anything because of confidentiality.

“That even upsets me more,” he said, because it means, in effect, lawbreakers have “the protection of Health Canada.

“It’s costing us thousands of dollars. Yes, we get to court, but it costs a lot of money to get there,” Harrison said.

He said, for example, staff may discover a property has federal approval to grow a given number of plants, but is growing double that number.

“We can remove them but you have to keep them in good quality in case you have to give them back,” he said.

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