Article by Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor
Barb Vervaeke says she can’t even go out in her backyard when the “horrendous” smell of cannabis from a nearby medical marijuana operation is at its worst.
“Last summer, we couldn’t sit outside,” said Vervaeke who has lived on Bruce Street for 45 years. “It’s not fair. We’re paying our taxes. We shouldn’t have to put up with this.”
Vervaeke’s daughter, Patricia Hird, who lives several blocks away on Sheridan Street, said they are sometimes overwhelmed by the skunky odour.
“It will go for some time when it’s not bad, then it’s atrocious again,” said Hird. “Some evenings we can barely get from the vehicles to the house it’s so strong. I have to cover my mouth with my shirt.”
City Coun. Richard Carpenter said he’s trying to do something about the problem at the municipal level.
Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley said it’s a problem that’s happening across the country because of a two-stream system created by the federal government in 2016. One stream was reserved for licensed producers of medical marijuana and is highly regulated and monitored. The second stream consists of personal and designated growers who are subject to “little-to-no regulation, are rarely monitored and who make up the majority of the problematic grow-ops.”
Brantford-Brant MP Phil McColeman is one of 30 MPs who signed a letter written by Finley to Health Minister Patty Hajdu last November calling for the government to fix the problem. McColeman said one of the main reasons for the troublesome grow-ops is the ability for designated growers to produce medical marijuana for multiple people with licences and for there to be multiple growers at a given location.
“What also creates these large-scale operations is that the amount of cannabis that can be grown based on the amount prescribed is rising, with no justification,” said Finley, adding that the average grams per day of dried cannabis a person is authorized to have in their possession rose to 34 in 2019 from seven in 2016.
Finley said prescriptions are also extremely easy to get.
“After a quick search, you will see that anyone can go online and speak with a physician to get a prescription for medical marijuana. Since 2016, there has been a 98 per cent increase in the number of active licences for medical marijuana in most provinces across the country.”
Carpenter said he first raised the issue about what he says is a medical marijuana growing operation on Brock Street in December 2019. Recently, he got support directing city staff to investigate whether the city can implement an odour bylaw that would protect people living near cannabis growing operations emitting noxious odours.
At a recent committee meeting, Carpenter told councillors his concern is focused on the former Lockwood Manufacturing building at 360 Brock St., more recently a former tire facility.
Last March, Brantford police executed a search warrant at the building and seized more than 3,600 cannabis plants worth an estimated $927,000.
In a letter to Hajdu on May 4, 2020, Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis and CAO Brian Hutchings said two licences had recently been issued by Health Canada related to production of medical marijuana at the facility, allowing for cultivation of 820 plants. Police confiscated all but the approved 820 plants. Four men, aged 35, 32, 27 and 23, all from the Toronto area, were charged with cultivating, propagating or harvesting or offering to cultivate, propagate or harvest, a cannabis plant that is from a seed or plant material that they know is illicit.
“The police department has notified Health Canada of the charges against the licence holders, however any action with respect to the revocation of the approved licences is up to Health Canada,” said the letter from the mayor and CAO. “This is clearly not an ideal situation on this property for the residents of this neighbourhood.”
In its letter, the city said the issuance of any kind of cannabis production licence “must have local input and co-ordination.”
At a recent meeting, Hutchings said the city received no response to the letter from Health Canada.
A lack of oversight into who is growing medical cannabis and how much is being grown is allowing people to sell it on the black market, said Carpenter.
“I don’t understand how Health Canada can let them stay in business when they’ve broken the law,” he said. “They should have the same regulations as commercial growers for filters, security and safety.”
He said the Brock Street facility has no fencing and appears to have no other security or safety measures in place. Some of the building’s windows are broken.
The City of Hamilton passed a bylaw last year that allows that municipality to crack down on excessively skunky pot growing. It was crafted to deal with complaints about large-scale personal grow operations in poorly ventilated buildings. Under the bylaw, an individual can be ordered to fix the odour problem or face fines ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.
Garry Anderson, Brantford’s manager of property standards and bylaws, said a report on a potential odour bylaw could come back to councillors in the second quarter of the year.
James Messecar, who lives near Conklin Park on Murray Street, near the Brock Street facility, said he’s in favour of a bylaw.