Surrey business owner Tamer Salloum has had it with the legal medical marijuana grow-op next door to his auto repair shop after a recent flood caused by the grow-op damaged his business and his reputation.
Last December, Salloum, who owns Speedpro High Performance, was told by his landlord that a cabinet manufacturer was moving into the neighbouring unit of his business complex, but something just didn't smell right.
"I noticed that they were building these greenhouses inside the units," said Salloum. "Right away, I knew it was a grow-op."
Salloum said he notified the city, the developer and the strata council, but nothing was done until a major leak put his business in jeopardy. In early February, a water tank burst at the grow-op, causing a flood that damaged the wall between the two units at 8675 130th St.
"My employee came to work early one day and he phones me up and he's like, 'You're never going to believe what happened here - I'm standing in water,'" said Salloum, who then raced to his shop and found water two inches deep collecting on the floor.
He called 911 and the fire department and drug task force responded. Salloum said several employees of the grow-op were questioned and released, but because they had permits for at least 1,060 plants in the 20,000-square-foot facility, the cops couldn't do anything.
Currently, there isn't a system to map out all the medical marijuana grow-ops in Surrey for emergency services.
"We have no indication of where they are, other than the ones that we stumble upon through our electrical fire safety team doing inspections," said Surrey deputy fire chief Dan Barnscher. "Because of disclosure issues, Health Canada is not willing to release the locations of them."
Barnscher added that the City of Surrey submitted a Freedom of Information request to Health Canada and found that there are more than 740 medicinal licences issued within Surrey.
"Of those 740 licences, there are approximately 540 locations attached to those licences where they are cultivating medicinal marijuana," he said.
"If Health Canada doesn't go ahead and tell the municipalities where these grow-ops are being set up, how is anyone supposed to ever know?" asked Salloum.
Additionally, Salloum said he has lost business as a result of the flood. The smell of marijuana wafted into his business, giving customers the impression that he and his employees smoke marijuana.
"I did have a few customers email me and say that they were refusing to do business at my shop because A: when they picked up their vehicles, it smelled like marijuana and they had to get them detailed - which now I have to compensate them for - and B: that they didn't want potheads working on their cars," he said. "That really affected my business and my reputation."
Furthermore, Salloum claims the strata building that houses the 40-some units has lost insurance because of the grow-op, though Speedpro still has business insurance at a cost of about $8,000 per year.
"Now (the complex has) no insurance, my building's damaged, my reputation's damaged and these guys are going to pretty much get away with it," he said.
New federal legislation, set to take effect next April, aims to better regulate medical marijuana grow-ops and dispensaries, though it's unclear if Health Canada will require growers to make local governments, fire departments and police aware of their locations.
The legislation also confines medical marijuana grow-ops to one zone. The grow-op facility is currently zoned for industrial use, but with city council's recent approval of a bylaw amendment that would force all medical marijuana grow-ops into C-8B community commercial zones, the grow-op owners will have to rezone the property before April 1, 2014, if they plan to keep growing there.
However, Salloum said that even with fire and electrical safety inspections pending on the grow-op, he doubts the growers will be forced out.
"I'm not confident in the system at all," he said. "Everyone's told me that their hands are tied and because they have federal backing that there's not a lot they can do until a judge actually mandates that federal licensing has to comply with municipal and provincial bylaws."
But Barnscher said that while the growers are federally licensed, they have not obtained permits from the city to allow the grow-up under Surrey's medical marijuana bylaw.
"We're moving that they shut down all their cultivation of medicinal marijuana as they're in non-compliance of our medicinal marijuana bylaw that's in place with the city," he said.
Attempts to reach the grow-op owners for comment were unsuccessful.