A year after reporting that Chilliwack residents were three more times likely than average British Columbians to be licensed medical marijuana growers, the Times has learned the number has tripled.
According to figures obtained through an Access to Information request in January 2012, 238 Chilliwack residents were licensed to possess marijuana for medical reasons and 193 were licensed to produce marijuana for medical purposes.
There were 4,608 licensed users and 3,831 licensed growers in all of British Columbia 13 months ago. That translated to about 85 growers and 102 users per 100,000 people. But Chilliwack had about 280 growers and 344 users per 100,000 residents.
Health Canada has told the Times there are now 666 persons in Chilliwack who hold a licence to possess marijuana for medical purposes.
That's a 180 per cent increase in one year and mirrors provincial increases. As of Feb. 18, there were 13,362 people in B.C. authorized to possess, up 190 per cent from a year ago, and accounting for nearly half of the 28,076 across Canada.
The number of those growing marijuana increased even more.
As of last week, there were 513 individuals in Chilliwack who hold personal use production licences (PUPL) and 77 who hold designated person production licences (DPPL). Assuming the 193 number from a year ago included both PUPLs and DPPLs (Health Canada was unable to confirm this by press time) that's a three-fold, or 206 per cent, increase in growers in the city in one year.
Provincewide, the number of growers rose from 3,831 a year ago to 11,601 (9,369 PUPLs and 2,232 DPPLs) today. That compares to a total of 9,846 growers in the nine other provinces and three territories combined.
In the past decade, Health Canada says the medical marijuana program has grown exponentially across the country, from under 500 authorized persons in 2002 to more than 28,000 today.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz and several city councillors have made no secret of their health and safety concerns regarding medical marijuana licences.
There are also serious concerns about illegal activity connected to medical marijuana grow operations and the lack of oversight by Health Canada.
But the medical marihuana access regulations (MMAR) will be changing soon and the government is looking for feedback up until Feb. 28.
"Current medical marihuana regulations have left the system open to abuse," Health Minister Leona Agluk-kaq said in December, when the proposed changes and consultation period was announced. "We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials, and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity, and putting health and safety of Canadians at risk. These changes will make it far more difficult for people to game the system."
When asked if Health Canada inspected local medical marijuana growers to ensure compliance with regulations and other laws, a spokesperson said "inspectors for the Controlled Substances Program (CSP) use a risk-based approach to monitor and promote compliance with the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA) and its regulations. The CSP conducts approximately 180 inspections on regulated parties per year for all controlled substances and precursor chemicals."
Part of why changes are proposed is because of government concern about abuse of the system, the spokesperson told the Times.
Under the proposed changes, individuals will also no longer be allowed to grow marijuana in their place of residence.
When the new rules come into effect on April 1, 2014, licensed producers will be required to notify local governments, police forces and fire officials of their intention to apply to Health Canada so authorities will be aware of the location of the grow-ops.
At Tuesday's meeting, city council approved a staff recommendation to respond to Health Canada about its concerns over zoning, licensing, bylaws, health, safety and security related to medicinal marijuana grow operations.
At that meeting, Coun. Chuck Stam also expressed concern that medical marijuana production permitted on farm land could pressure on the agricultural community. He suggested the topic should be brought to the attention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
See the Chilliwack Times next week for more on this subject, including the firsthand experiences of those living adjacent to medical marijuana grow operations in commercial and residential areas.
NUMBER of medical marijuana production licences in Chilliwack in January 2012
NUMBER of medical marijuana possession licences in Chilliwack in January 2012
NUMBER of medical marijuana production licences in Chilliwack in February 2013
NUMBER of medical marijuana possession licences in Chilliwack in February 2013