Lower Mainland mayors are predicting disaster when Ottawa cancels medical marijuana growing licences in thousands of B.C. homes next spring in favour of new commercial producers.
They warned federal officials at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Tuesday that the transition – without any teeth to enforce closure and cleanup of the soon-to-be-illegal home grows – will push them further into the grip of organized crime and leave cities with a legacy of contaminated houses.
"You created this nightmare," Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman told Health Canada representatives, noting Ottawa refused to identify licensees so cities could inspect them and ensure they're safe.
He said the federal government therefore has a moral obligation to help ensure medical pot grow houses are made safe so subsequent buyers don't unsuspectingly move their families and children into homes with serious mould problems or electrical or fire code violations.
"Fix the problem you helped create," Banman demanded. "These people are going to close these homes down, they're going to slap a little paint on and nobody is going to be the wiser. That is borderline criminal."
Health Canada would take steps to remediate if it were tied to properties contaminated with asbestos, he suggested, so it should do the same when under B.C. law past use of a property as a grow-op must be disclosed for health reasons.
Other mayors, including Chilliwack's Sharon Gaetz and Kelowna's Walter Gray, predicted medical growers won't stop voluntarily.
"Dave's not here, man," quipped Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow in a rendition of Cheech and Chong.
Asked by the mayor of Mission what will be done to ensure growers shut down, Health Canada's Todd Cain said licensees will be notified they must cease production, decommission and remediate.
"Beyond that, we're really relying on them to follow the law," he said, drawing laughter.
"They're going to take that letter and roll it in product and they're going to smoke it – that's what's going to happen," predicted Mission Coun. Dave Hensman.
He demanded to know how Ottawa justified licensing 700 legal medical pot grows in Mission – a community of 30,000 people – and said he opposes his municipality spending a dime to clean up the problem.
"I'm not going to shut them down and you're not going to shut them down. So dude, it's not going to work."
Cain said privacy restrictions still prevent Ottawa from disclosing permitted grows.
He said Health Canada could begin certifying legal producers within weeks and some of the expected 50 to 75 producers to be chosen nation-wide are expected to be in operation well before the official April 1 launch date of the new system.
More than 100 licence applications have been received and about 40 are from B.C., most of them located in the Lower Mainland.
Hensman said the Lower Mainland doesn't need that many commercial growers, suggesting more be located elsewhere in Canada.
Medical pot price to vary
New medical marijuana grown in large-scale commercial operations will be sold at various price points, federal officials say.
"What we're hearing from producers is there will be quite a range," Health Canada spokesman Todd Cain said.
He said producers expect to offer between four and 30 different strains at different prices, some of them as low as about $3.50 or $4 a gram, adding that's significantly lower than medical pot users previously feared.
"Supply and demand, once the market is established, will drive the pricing," Cain said.
Pot distribution will be done only by mail or courier, not through any pharmacies or retail outlets.
In response to questions about pot being lost in the mail, Cain noted the existing federally run medical marijuana plant in Saskatchewan already ships product through a combination of courier and mail with a "good success rate."
Shipments will be in the form of dried marijuana only.
It will be sent in individual airtight packets of 30 grams each, limited to a maximum of 150 grams per shipment.
Cain predicted the new system will close loopholes that allowed abuse while ensuring qualified medical users can legally get marijuana.
Users who are prescribed marijuana by a doctor will be permitted to possess 150 grams or a 30-day supply, whichever is lower.
There are 35,000 existing permitted medical pot users in Canada.