Surreyites who smoke medicinal marijuana may soon need to find a new dealer if they currently buy from "homegrown" suppliers.
Last Monday, Surrey city council approved a corporate report recommendation to amend a city bylaw that would prohibit personal marijuana growing operations and allow medical marijuana to be grown only in commercial buildings that are zoned as C-8B, Community Commercial B. City staff are preparing the bylaw with the amendment, which will appear before council at a public hearing in the future.
"Canada does recognize medicinal use and growing for personal use, but it's been very hard to regulate," said Coun. Barinder Rasode. "That's something that's of concern to us in Surrey."
The amendment is part of a federal effort to monitor the growing of medicinal marijuana, announced by Federal Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq on Dec. 16, 2012. The following day, city council adopted a resolution to restrict the commercial cultivation, production, delivery and sale of medical marijuana to a particular zone within the city.
The proposed changes to the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations came about over such public safety concerns as fire hazards.
In 2003, 15 of Surrey's 173 house fires were directly attributable to electrical problems associated with a grow operation. As well, the average value of property loss in Surrey house fires involving grow-ops between 1997 and 2003 was $59,307, nearly twice the average for general house fires.
"We just believe that, in terms of broader public safety, it is very important," said Rasode. "The growing of medical marijuana does have some impacts on the community and we'd like to see it more regulated in Surrey. If it's done in a commercial facility we're able to regulate that better."
The report states that personal licences would be eliminated and a licensing process for commercial medicinal marijuana grow-ops would be established. Rasode noted that some personal grow-ops sell marijuana from their stash to recreational smokers who don't have prescriptions.
"It's an issue that we think could easily become a problem, so we're trying to get ahead of it," she said.
Randy Caine, owner of the chain of Hempyz smoking accessories stores, acknowledged the government has had trouble monitoring illicit sales of medical marijuana, but added that taking away personal licences restricts the freedom of the medicinal users who grow only for themselves.
"I do think there's going to be a tremendous amount of resistance," said Caine of the federal effort. "You can't take away, increasingly, the amount of independence that these people have."
Caine, who said he previously ran a dispensary in Langley, also spoke to concerns that commercial suppliers will charge more. He said while medical marijuana doesn't need to be more expensive, he's worried the few with licences may take advantage of their positions and overcharge.
"I already see it now in terms of dispensaries that are charging $10 a gram," he said. "A lot of the dispensaries are charging more than what I would consider street pricing."
Rasode noted that the city would see additional revenue from business licences and taxes on commercial buildings, but not from the sale of medicinal marijuana.
Marijuana brings in an estimated $6 billion in revenue yearly in British Columbia. Between 500,000 and a million Canadians use medical marijuana.
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