A new federal law that will ban medicinal marijuana growing in residential neighbourhoods is likely good news for most Langley Township residents, and public safety officials.
But there are some troubling unknowns about the impact of the new laws, including the likelihood of a court challenge and concerns the formerly legal residential grow-ops could keep going.
That was the view of participants in a Township-sponsored public information session on the planned changes by the federal government, held Wednesday evening (May 15) at the George Preston recreation centre in Brookswood.
“My big concern is that we suddenly have 26,000-plus illegal grow operations out there,” said the head of the Langley RCMP detachment, Supt. Derek Cooke.
Other members of the panel sounded the same mix of optimism and caution about the new laws.
Township Mayor Jack Froese said because the regulation of medicinal marijuana growing is under federal authority, there is little local authorities can do to restrict the current activity.
“I’m the mayor, but I’m not the king,” Froese said.
“Our hands are tied.”
Langley RCMP Sgt. Jason Wilde said court decisions that upheld the right to access medical marijuana ultimately led to an explosion in the numbers of licensed grows-ops from a few hundred to many thousands.
“It kind of became a slippery slope,” Wilde said.
Langley MP Mark Warawa said the new law, which will take effect in April, 2014, will replace the thousands of small grow-ops currently operating in neighbourhoods across Canada with roughly 60 large licensed growing facilities that will be restricted to commercial and industrial areas.
“We know the problem has grown to the point of making it unlivable,” Warawa said.
Township fire chief Stephen Gamble and Township bylaws manager Bill Storie also took part in the two-hour meeting.
Health Canada, the federal government agency that regulates medical marijuana growing, was invited to send a representative, but refused.
Some residents who spoke expressed frustration with the current state of affairs, as well as hope the new regulations will improve the situation and fear that legal challenges could disrupt their implementation.
One man said he personally knew of supposedly legal medicinal marijuana grow-ops that were being operated in Langley by people with ties to organized crime.
Many have complained criminals are targeting legal grow-ops to steal product, creating a safety hazard for people who live nearby.
By 2014, all of the residential marijuana growing licenses will have expired and the new federal government regulations will restrict legal grow-ops to commercial areas.
Under the new rules, medical marijuana will be dispersed through pharmacies or by mail. Consumers will be limited to purchasing 150 grams at a time — which works out to five grams per day for 30 days.
Some municipalities — including Maple Ridge, Surrey, Coquitlam and Vancouver — are reported to be considering restrictive zoning bylaws to amplify the impact of the federal law, while Langley City is proposing a complete prohibition on the production of medical marijuana within its boundaries.