Last summer, Mat Vaughan, the principal planner for Norfolk County, conducted what he calls a driving exercise.
He crossed the municipality that borders the north shore of Lake Erie in a grid, looking for cannabis grows. Of particular interest were operations that have sprung up in backyard greenhouses, or old barns, or hoop houses with board and batten fences.
It wasn’t long before he found one. And then another and another. His nose was just as likely to make the discovery as his eyes. Some of the greenhouses operating in the county are as large as 10-square kilometres, he says, and home to thousands of plants, throwing “a very strong skunk like odour.”
Almost daily, Vaughan gets calls from county residents about the smell. He also gets reports about strangers cutting through residential yards to access grows, and general complaints of frustration and stress. At least one site has been the target of an armed robbery.
The plants belong to designated medical growers, licensed by Health Canada to grow cannabis for themselves or other individuals with a document authorizing cannabis for medical purposes. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Vaughan estimates there are 50 to 60 growing operations in the municipality flouting regulations. In April, representatives of a numbered company that has operated a 2.1 acre greenhouse in the county, housing approximately 1,300 plants, will be sentenced after pleading guilty to violating an odour control setback bylaw. The same facility was the target of a drug raid three years ago that resulted in 21 criminal charges against seven individuals. Last summer, police were called to the address again to investigate an assault and robbery. According to the Simcoe Reformer, the nearest home is 39 feet away.