Mayor Randy Hawes hears complaints about marijuana grow operations in the community almost on a weekly basis. He doesn’t know if they are legal or illegal ones, but either way, he wants to make sure these operations are housed in a facility with appropriate wiring and electrical hook ups.
“The complaints never stop,” said Hawes, noting the residents he spoke with this week have put their home up for sale. “People are moving because they can’t stand it anymore. They’re being driven out of their home and we need to do something about it.”
Hawes hopes to put a system in place where at least homes are being inspected for electrical safety.
A Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT) operated in Mission from 2008 to 2011 conducting safety inspections on homes throughout the community based on unusually high power usage.
Hawes said PSIT didn’t work because it was also a cost recovery program.
“Homeowners were charged $5,000 even if they suspected there was a grow op in the past,” said Hawes, noting perhaps the home had been used as one by a previous owner. “That’s not fair.”
Hawes explained Surrey’s Electrical Fire Safety Initiative has been instrumental in eliminating marijuana grow ops in that community. Surrey put the program in place in 2005 and the number of grow ops dropped by 82 per cent in four years.
“No bill is handed out in Surrey,” said Hawes. “It’s about safety.”
Hawes believes without any bylaws in place, the problem in Mission will get worse.
At Monday night’s council meeting, RCMP Cpl. Shane Holmquist explained the federal government began the medical marijuana program because of a court ruling that decided prohibition of it was unconstitutional.
The Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) was created in 2001 to allow Canadians with a permit to possess marijuana and produce it for personal use.
“Health Canada thought they could manage it, but it spiralled out of control,” said Holmquist. “The program expanded exponentially, and Health Canada couldn’t keep up.”
Court cases allowed people to grow the product for themselves, then allowed producers to grow for others. There is a maximum of four licenses per property.
Under MMAR rules, there were 477 house grows in 2002, but by 2012, there were 22,000 and by 2014, there were 57,799. If house grows are allowed to continue, it is projected there will be 433,688 by 2024.
According to police, there are 670 house grows in Mission, 687 in Abbotsford, and 694 in Chilliwack. When the numbers are broken down by postal codes, the Mission area has a “substantially high” amount compared to the rest of the Lower Mainland region, said Holmquist.
MMAR was repealed last year and now Health Canada has no authority to conduct inspections on properties with licensed grows.
Hawes knows some people view home inspections as a violation, but he says he is more sympathetic to people who are living beside these unwanted neighbours.
Medicinal grow ops with a license is legal, but inspectors should be allowed to make sure any adjustments to electrical wiring in the home is safe, said Hawes.
The federal government brought in new rules last year outlawing personal home grows in favour of commercial licenses, but their move is being challenged in court. The trial begins in Vancouver on February 23.