Surrey scrutinizes medical marijuana sites
Council asks where legal pot is grown to ensure homes properly modified
SURREY - The City of Surrey wants to know which of its residents have licences to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt pitched a resolution last week to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities asking the federal government to inform cities when medicinal pot licences are approved.
This would allow municipalities to pinpoint where the pot is being grown and ensure homes are properly modified, he said.
“We will make sure they get the proper permits and inspections so the place won’t be a fire hazard for them or anyone else,” Hunt added.
The resolution was made on behalf of B.C. fire chiefs, who argue medical marijuana growers often alter wiring and make structural changes to their homes before starting their growing operations.
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said this not only creates an increased fire risk but poses health problems in the home, such as mould and improper chemical storage.
Also, when people leave a home or move out, the city doesn’t necessarily know the house was used to grow pot.
“The city doesn’t know where they are,” Garis said, adding: “It’s no different than a criminal grow-op because of the clandestine nature. Even though there are indications they should seek approval, there are no requirements.”
Garis would like the federal government to allow local monitoring of licensed growing operations to ensure medical marijuana growers submit to zoning, fire and safety regulations and their homes are safe.
Otherwise, he said, when firefighters run across these homes, they have to regulate them after the fact. Some of the worst ones have to be shut down while upgrades are made.
Garis said his colleagues in Coquitlam and Langley have run across similar problems.
“We’re talking about community safety,” he said.
Some 2,017 individuals in Canada had licences to cultivate and process medical marijuana as of July last year. Surrey has identified about nine homes where medicinal pot is being grown.
The issue has already been raised by the Canadian Fire Chiefs, B.C. Fire Chiefs, and to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
In a letter to the UBCM, Garis noted research conducted by the Centre for Criminal Justice Research at the University of the Fraser Valley found homes containing a marijuana growing operation have a one in 22 probability of having a house fire. In homes without growing operations, the probability is one in 525.
Without proper regulations, he said, medical marijuana growing operations represent the same threat to public safety as illegal operations.
Meanwhile, Surrey has seen an 80.9-per-cent decline in the number of illegal marijuana growing operations between 2004 and 2008 as a result of its electrical fire safety inspection team. Some homes busted by the city have had upwards of 200 pot plants.
Homes used to grow pot are identified by reports of unusually high electricity consumption— typically at five times the average for a typical single-family residence.
But Garis said growers are becoming more savvy at hiding their operations by stealing power to avoid detection.
BY KELLY SINOSKI, VANCOUVER SUNSEPTEMBER 13, 2009 7:02 PM