Medical pot grow ops too problematic: council

Christopher MacLean - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Christopher MacLean
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

A growing number of complaints about medical marijuana operations in Coquitlam homes has prompted the city to look at changing its land use policies.

This week, council gave first reading to a zoning bylaw amendment that would stop medical pot from being produced in residential areas except for personal use.

As a result, third-party production — as regulated and permitted under the federal Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) — would be restricted to industrial sites; the city has designated five areas, all of them close to Highway 1.

As well, city staff are recommending council ban medical marijuana dispensaries not licensed by the federal government. The latter move comes in response to a compassion club that opened up shop last month in Maillardville.

Christopher MacLeod, spokesperson for the Coquitlam Natural Path Society, who was at Monday's city council meeting with supporters, told The Tri-City News afterwards he agrees medical marijuana shouldn't be grown in residential areas (he said he buys his weed from a licensed commercial grower).

But he fears the zoning change will close his club, which currently doesn't have a business licence. Since his club opened on Brunette Avenue, MacLeod said he has about 100 customers from the Tri-Cities, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey and Maple Ridge who have ailments that include cancer, diabetes, glaucoma, Crohn's disease, Hepatitis C and arthritis.

MacLeod uses the drug himself to treat juvenile arthritis in his hips and legs.

"It's a non-toxic product that makes me live a normal life," he said.

Mayor Richard Stewart, who suffers from chronic back spasms and said he has had doctors recommend he take medical marijuana (he has refused), said while many councillors understand pot can ease someone's debilitating pain, the distribution of it won't be tolerated in Coquitlam.

A big part of the problem is that the federal regulations are unclear, he said. As of May, 19,482 Canadians had permits to possess medical marijuana under the MMAR while 12,649 people had licences to grow it, with 2,550 allowed to grow for a third party.

Coun. Craig Hodge, who said he has been inundated with complaints about a certain medical marijuana operation on Burke Mountain, said grow ops — legal or not — are a health and safety risk for emergency personnel and surrounding neighbours.

Last month, at around 4:30 a.m., two people were arrested for allegedly breaking into a Town Centre-area house and stealing the medical pot plants, Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Jamie Chung said Tuesday; the home's occupants suffered non-life threatening injuries. It was the only medical marijuana rip in the last three months, he said.

• The city will hold a public hearing on July 30 on the zoning bylaw changes for medical marijuana operations and dispensaries.


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