Opinion

COLUMN: Medical marijuana laws need adjusting

The challenge posed by marijuana grow-ops, legal or illegal, continues to perplex officials at all levels of government.

At the same time, the proliferation of grow-ops presents a number of serious public-safety issues.

Surrey has been among the leaders in pointing out these serious safety concerns that sprout up when homes are used to grow marijuana. Fire chief Len Garis has been very proactive on this issue, and the city has shot down numerous grow-ops on a fire-safety basis.

Rewiring is often involved in these homes, and done without any proper inspections. On occasion, hydro meters are bypassed.

The number of plants and the need to water them leads to the growth of mould. And the fact that a home is being used for what is an industrial-scale operation means that children and pets are particularly at risk.

Surrey was poised to shut down medicinal-marijuana grow-ops, based on a new federal law that took effect Tuesday.

That law states that the growing of medicinal marijuana is to be done on a commercial scale, under federal licences, and not in homes – at least in part to address the safety risks.

However, enforcement of that proposed new law has been halted by a court injunction, issued by the federal court.

It was put in place because the law’s legality is being challenged on a constitutional basis.

Meanwhile, to get the new law off to a flaming start, a large farm complex in Port Kells, which had been used for a medicinal- marijuana grow-op, burned to the ground on Tuesday.

The landlord has suggested that it happened just as the operators of the grow-op were vacating the premises, and undoubtedly police and fire officials will be looking thoroughly into both the cause of some of the claims.

There are 37,000 medicinal-marijuana licences across the country, and a number of reports indicate that there are a disproportionate amount of them in B.C.

A response to a recent Freedom of Information request indicated there are more than 500 licences in neighbouring Langley, so it is almost certain that there are many more in Surrey.

It’s time to stop the posturing, and accept the fact that marijuana is widely used, both as a recreational drug, which thus far is illegal, and as a medicinal supplement, which is legal and will almost certainly stay that way.

The federal government is unreasonable in its insistence that marijuana use must continue to be illegal.

Its stance was justified while the U.S. was taking a firm stand on drugs, because of the vast interconnection between the two countries, but that isn’t the situation any longer.

While the U.S. federal government continues to prosecute marijuana cases, there, product is 100 per cent legal in Washington and Colorado (except on federal property), and it seems that has reduced the number of problems in relation to the drug.

Each state is also collecting revenue from sale of the drug, which is sold under strict conditions, as is the case with alcohol.

In Colorado’s case, it has already benefited from additional tourism due to the legalization of marijuana.

The federal government might be wiser to take a serious look at decriminalizing all marijuana use, and seeing if there is wisdom in making it a legal product, with sales restricted to adults.

If it worked with provincial and local governments on this issue, there could be a vast reduction in the number of grow-ops in homes, which would be a boost for public safety.

It almost certainly would also lead to a reduction in crime, which would be a break for police and the taxpayers who fund them.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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