Most of the names in this story have been changed or omitted so as not to identify the location of the medicinal marijuana grow operations in question.
Kim and John Smith are used to strange looks from sniffing customers at their Chilliwack business.
On a recent visit by the Times, John walked from the small storefront office to the back of his 2,000-square-foot operation. He turned on an industrial fan needed for his work. Within minutes the room filled with the unmistakable smell of marijuana.
The problem, which has consumed the couple for four years, is that their business neighbours have a medicinal marijuana grow operation, one that is about to more than double in size.
"It absolutely reeks," Kim says of the constant odour. "And he is not operating his full licence yet."
The Smiths' business is run out of a two-unit commercial strata building in an area of the city zoned light industrial. What baffles them is that there was no consultation before someone was allowed to grow marijuana on the other side of a shared wall.
"We had no say in the matter," Kim said.
A Health Canada bureacrat told the Smiths the medical marijuana program refers to property ownership, but does "not differentiate between types of buildings such as semi-detached, apartment or stand alone."
Kim has a thick binder of letters, emails and newspaper clippings she has amassed since 2009, when the neighbour first informed the Smiths that he was a designated grower with more than 100 plants.
As part of Health Canada's medical marijuana access regulations (MMAR), there are two types of growing licences: personal use production licences (PUPL) and designated person production licences (DPPL).
There are 513 PUPLs in Chilliwack and 77 DPPLs as of Feb. 18, according to Health Canada. That is more than triple the number of legal marijuana growers in Chilliwack from a year ago.
Feb. 28 is the deadline Health Canada has set to comment on its proposed changes to the MMAR. Under those proposed changes, all growing will be removed from residential areas, but there is some uncertainty over where the growing will now be allowed.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz has been vocal in her concern about medicinal marijuana growing in Chilliwack and where the operations are located.
"This is a huge issue, it's neverend-ing," Gaetz said. "This is just one of the examples of the conflicts in neighbourhoods. . . . The problem is that we haven't had consultation about where grows shall go. If I want to put a duplex in, I have public hearings and neighbours are invited out. Growing marijuana is a big industrial business."
And so it should be restricted to industrial areas, according to Gaetz.
The mayor may get her way as the proposed changes mean municipalities will get a say.
"Decisions regarding zoning and the location of businesses fall under the jurisdiction of local governments," a Health Canada spokesperson told the Times via email. "The proposed regulations do not stipulate where licensed producers should be located, but do ensure that municipalities are aware of the location of production sites in their communities.
"Furthermore, licensed producers would be required to notify their local government, local police force and local fire officials of their intention to apply to Health Canada."
This still doesn't answer the Smiths' question of whether or not the grow operation next to them will have to move when changes come into effect April 1, 2014.
The Smiths' shared cinderblock building has basic drywall dividing the two units. Given their neighbour's security measures, the easiest way for anyone to break in to steal the plants is through the Smiths' door and through the wall between the units.
While complaints about such situations are common, municipalities, fire departments and even the police say in many cases their hands are tied because of privacy issues surrounding medicinal marijuana.
But Health Canada says if there is suspected criminal activity at a grow operation, people should call the RCMP. And bylaw, fire and electrical inspections are out of its area of authority.
While changes are coming, there is much uncertainty and Kim feels no one is listening. Four years ago she complained to then MP Chuck Strahl, who directed her to Health Canada. Then last week she cancelled a meeting planned with current MP Mark Strahl because she was only given 30 minutes, not nearly enough time to outline her concerns, she said.
"It started with Chuck Strahl," she said. "I have written so many letters and emails and have not received answers. . . . It's been one deaf ear after another."
On the other side of the issue, some of those who hold designated grower licences and some who hold personal use licences have made significant monetary investments in their operations only to now have the federal government pull the rug out from under them.
Jason Wilcox has suffered from a terminal illness for 20 years and relies on his personal production of cannabis to relieve his suffering. Wilcox is the CEO of the newly formed MMAR Coalition Against Repeal, and he said the proposed changes will trample patient rights.
Wilcox said fear-mongering and a few cases of illegal behaviour have spoiled it for the 28,000-or-so people in the country licensed to use marijuana for health conditions.
"We all do our best to comply," Wilcox told the Times. "It's just like drivers who speed. We've had a few bad apples that the media tacks on to and the Conservatives want to throw it in our face."
On Dec. 16, 2012, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the proposed changes and said that the current regulations "have left the system open to abuse."
When contacted by the Times, the owners of the unit adjacent to the Smiths declined to be interviewed. When asked about the expanded grow operation the owner asked why the Times was focused on that address in particular when there are so many others in Chilliwack, even in the same neighbourhood.
? See the Thursday Times for a look at residential medicinal marijuana growing in a rural area in the ALR.
A GROWING CONFLICT
Part 1 - Fighting medicinal marijuana's growth in commercial zones
Part 2 - Use of farm land for future growth of pot industry is a major concern
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