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Cannabis law loopholes create challenges for Prince Rupert

Bachrach says “inordinate” amounts of cannabis being prescribed allow commercial-sized production
Loopholes in federal laws are allowing commercial-sized cannabis grow operations in Canadian communities, Prince Rupert included,Taylor Bachrach, Skeena Bulkley MP, said on May 6. (Photo: supplied/K-J Millar)

Loopholes in the federal cannabis growing legislation are a concern and pose challenges for municipalities, Skeena Bulkey MP Taylor Bachrach said on May 6.

“I am familiar with the larger concerns around grow-ops in Prince Rupert because that has been a long-standing concern…” Bachrach told The Northern View. “I’ve had lots of people from Prince Rupert approach me concerned about the grow-op issue,” he said.

“The problem municipalities are having is that it’s very difficult to regulate the location of those personal growth operations connected to the medical cannabis system,” he said.

Other municipalities across Canada have the same challenges as Prince Rupert. However, he said no other cities or towns in his riding had come forward with such problems.

He explained there is a difference between federal commercial grow operations and legal medicinal grow operations. Medicinal cannabis growing licences are granted by Health Canada.

“My understanding is that in order to get a licence, you either have to have a prescription for medical cannabis, or you have to be growing for someone who has a prescription,” he said.

“Growing cannabis for medical purposes is not a commercial venture. It’s not classified as a commercial activity because it’s not being sold into the market.”

On the other hand, commercial operations would have to have a business licence.

“They would have to have a federal production licence for commercial production of cannabis — that is cannabis that is going to be sold. And because it’s a commercial venture, they would have to be in the appropriate zone in the community.”

Bachrach had a meeting with Health Canada a little more than a year ago to gain a better understanding of what was happening with operations, he said.

“What they told me is that essentially, there are some doctors who are prescribing large, inordinately large amounts of cannabis per patient. And because a grower can grow for four patients with prescriptions, they’re able to amass enough plants to essentially have a commercial size grow operation.”

Health Canada does not place limits on the amount of cannabis a doctor can prescribe for patient use, which opens the door for people to get medical licences and skirt the system and sell for profit.

According to the Health Canada website, doctors in the country are authorizing patients to consume on average 2.1 grams per day, which equals 10 plants per person under indoor growing conditions per growing cycle. A Health Canada calculator shows if 10 grams daily were prescribed, 49 plants would be allowable; if 90 grams per day were prescribed 438 plants would be allowable under one medicinal use licence, thus, a grower could have care and control of up 1,752 plants per growing cycle.

Bachrach explained this is not a federal commercial growing operation but for personal medicinal purposes.

“Grow-ops under the medical cannabis permitting system don’t sell their cannabis into the recreational stream.”

The MP said there are gaps in the regulations that need to be addressed, and there is a legislative review supposed to be happening soon that he suspects may be delayed.

“It’s been challenging for us to get information about that review process, but I certainly intend to provide input to that process, based on what I know about the challenges municipalities are facing,”

It’s not just municipalities the MP has heard from, he has also heard concerns from businesses and the cannabis retail sector who have changes they want to see.

“I imagine it will be quite an involved process. My hope is that the municipal concerns are addressed as part of that review.”

Bachrach said he has had “several conversations” with Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain about the issues.

“I have expressed to him that I am fully supportive of any steps the city takes in the future,” the MP said. “For matters that fall into municipal jurisdiction, I respect that those are for the City of Prince Rupert to decide. When it comes to the federal legislation, I have heard from residents who are concerned about the impact, and I’m looking forward to providing that feedback as part of the review.

“At a high level, I’m supportive of the legalization of cannabis, but at the same time, we need to ensure that the federal regulations are appropriate and aren’t creating situations that are extremely challenging for communities.”

READ MORE: Downtown fire puts public knowledge of cannabis facilities into question in Prince Rupert

READ MORE: Aftermath of Belmont Hotel fire in Prince Rupert

 K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist 
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Clippings and remnants of an alleged cannabis grow operation after a fire in downtown Prince Rupert on May 1. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)