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Grow-op sparks complaints in Severn

'This one is very close to homes, so it’s a huge concern,' mayor says; township to hold public meeting March 20

The mayor of Severn Township wants municipalities to have more say when it comes to cannabis production facilities.

Mike Burkett only learned last week there was one operating in the Big Chief Road area. It was brought to his attention when three nearby residents complained about the odour.

“This one is very close to homes, so it’s a huge concern,” he said.

The growers received approval from Health Canada to cultivate marijuana for medicinal use at the site, but the federal agency did not speak with the township about it in advance.

“They’re doing all this behind our backs. They did not come to us about anything,” Burkett said.

He called Health Canada last week and is waiting for a reply.

“I will drive to Ottawa if that’s what it takes,” he said.

He is hoping an amendment to the comprehensive zoning bylaw will give the township more power regarding the location of grow operations.

The township will hold a public meeting about the proposed amendment March 20 at the administration office on Hurlwood Lane. It will start at 7 p.m., following an open house that will run from 4 to 6 p.m.

“Council has the right to say no (to a particular location). Until we enact a bylaw that says that, we have no teeth,” Burkett said.

He expects some of those who live near the grow-op will be at the meeting.

“I will need to have an answer for our residents,” he said.

Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton is helping Burkett get that answer. Stanton, too, has reached out to the feds — specifically, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor — and has yet to receive a reply.

“We’re going to have the rattle the bushes with Health Canada,” he said, noting he has received similar complaints about grow-ops in Tay and Tiny townships.

Until 2014, users of medicinal cannabis could grow their own plants at home if they had a licence from Health Canada. That authority then moved to physicians, who were to prescribe the marijuana.

That was “almost immediately” challenged in court, Stanton noted, as people wanted to grow their own. In February 2016, the Supreme Court overturned the part of the law that restricted users from growing their own plants. In response, Health Canada created Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

“The ACMPR is quite good,” Stanton said. “Where the problem comes in is in the number of plants now that are allowed.”

For instance, there is no limit on the amount of grams per day a physician can prescribe, and Stanton believes there are some “errant, rogue practitioners” prescribing too much.

He also believes people are exploiting a “loophole” in the ACMPR. They can have four separate certificates from Health Canada and grow all of the plants — sometimes hundreds or more than 1,000 — in the same location.

“The criminals are never too far from finding a way around the laws, and that’s what they’ve done,” he said. “(Health Canada) has got to know that this isn’t for personal use and they shouldn’t issue the damn certificate, but they do.”

He thinks the grow-ops, including the one in Severn, are there “for the sole purpose of supplying the illicit cannabis market.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind, and it’s the same case in Tay and it’s the same case in Tiny.”

Stanton will be raising the issue with his caucus colleagues.

“This is something that’s got to be dealt with,” he said.

He will also send a representative to the March 20 meeting in Severn.

“We completely agree with the residents that this is beyond the bounds of anything acceptable.”


Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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