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Local politicians fuming over Cannabis Act enforcement gaps

'All of these problems are being dumped on local municipalities and the taxpayers to deal with,' says Oro-Medonte Township mayor
2021-03-26 Cannabis
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According to County of Simcoe councillors, Cannabis Act enforcement is going to pot.

During Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting, many councillors expressed dismay with recent correspondence sent to the County of Simcoe from Health Canada in response to concerns raised by the county over the Cannabis Act as it currently exists.

“Health Canada claims...that processes need to be followed. There’s a tremendous gap between the communications they have and what is actually happening out there,” said Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes.

At the end of 2020, county councillors voted in favour of sending a letter to Health Canada outlining their concerns with the enforcement of the Cannabis Act.

At that time, councillors asked the federal agency to consider amending the rules around commercial and personal production of cannabis to address problems being felt in rural areas across the county such as noise, odours and enforcement.

To read our full story on county council’s concerns at that time, click here.

The letter was sent to Health Canada in January. The county received a response on April 19 from Mike McGuire, a director with Health Canada from the controlled substances and cannabis branch.

“The Cannabis Act and the cannabis regulations create a strict framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada,” wrote McGuire in his letter, also attaching a fact sheet of regulations.

However, politicians from multiple Simcoe County municipalities have said that the way enforcement is shaking down at the municipal level is not what Health Canada is promising.

Hughes says Oro-Medonte is dealing with a situation where licences were granted to commercial cannabis producers without notifications or procedures that were clearly outlined in the Health Canada letter.

“The enforcement they have promised is lacking,” he said, adding the township is dealing with a three-party Local Appeal and Planning Tribunal proceeding that isn’t slated to be heard until March 2022.

“These operations that aren’t complying are able to continue to operate even though they haven’t followed the procedures that Health Canada has outlined. They did not notify us,” he said.

He noted a fourth licence has recently been granted in Oro-Medonte, again, without any notification to the township.

“All of these problems are being dumped on local municipalities and the taxpayers to deal with,” said Hughes.

Ramara Township Mayor Basil Clarke raised concerns over what he saw as excessive allowances included in personal licenses for growing cannabis.

“I have one property where there are eight people on the deed, and they each have a licence for 99 plants,” said Clarke. “I would like Health Canada to take a look. Now that you can buy marijuana legally, a personal grow licence should not be more than four plants.”

Adjala-Tosorontio Deputy Mayor Bob Meadows relayed a story about a grower with two prescriptions, one from an eye doctor and one from a hair doctor, neither of which are located in Canada, that permit him to grow up to 400 plants on his property.

“This is legal through Health Canada. To me, there is a bigger issue here,” he said. “Police can’t do anything about it because they have a legitimate prescription from Health Canada.”

“It’s putting a burden on our township, and probably everybody else’s,” said Meadows.

Bradford West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc said his municipality had passed municipal bylaws to prevent cannabis farms from popping up in the Holland Marsh.

Their success in passing a bylaw made Severn Mayor Mike Burkett a little jealous.

“In our township, our fire chief won’t even go in. I’ve watched them take bundles of marijuana out with the police sitting there, not able to do anything,” said Burkett. “The medicinal part trumps all of the bylaws that we have. If you were able to do it, I would love for you to forward that information to me.”

Clarke said his township’s bylaw officers have been met by armed guards at farms in his township.

Burkett pointed out that as Health Canada is a federal agency, perhaps the county should be reaching out to area Members of Parliament to try to affect change at that level.

“Should our MPs be putting a motion on the floor to change the legislation that Health Canada should be abiding by?” asked Burkett. “We can send as many letters as we want to Health Canada, but the director’s hands are tied.”

Deputy Warden Lynn Dollin noted a letter was sent on this issue in late 2020 to the federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu which was signed by local MPs.

Councillors passed a recommendation to ask area MPs to support their position that commercial cannabis growers be required to provide proof of notice to municipalities prior to a licence being granted. They passed a second recommendation to ask area MPs to support their position that Health Canada places a reasonable limit on the number of cannabis plants permitted by personal applicants.

To read the letter sent to the County of Simcoe from Health Canada, click here.