A White Rock mother who has gone public with concerns about a licensed marijuana grow operation next door to her Marine Drive home says she’d like to encourage others to speak out when neighbourhood issues impinge on the quality of their lives.
Lisa Van Vliet approached various media last week – including radio and television stations – after being told by police and city authorities that they have no grounds to act against residents who have a licence to grow marijuana for medical purposes.
Under existing licensing regulations, Health Canada is not obligated to inform either police or local governments of the location of licensed grow operations.
And White Rock RCMP say privacy concerns make it impossible for police to either confirm or comment on such situations.
Van Vliet said her concern is not only the smell of ‘pot’ that’s been wafting from the house into the bedrooms of daughters Tayla, 6, and Annika, 5, from out-vents barely 10 feet from their windows.
Given the careless upkeep of the property next door, which includes an enclosed bunker-like concrete structure behind the house, she also has questions and concerns over fire and other safety regulations.
While she has heard there are fewer than 200 marijuana plants on the property, and that they are within the growth limit for which it is licensed, that doesn’t assuage her concerns.
Neither does word that Health Canada regulations are changing when current licences expire in March, and that grow operations will then have to be at regulated, non-residential sites, with permits and full notification of local authorities.
“What are we supposed to do until then?” she said. “These agencies are not talking to each other. They say that as long as a licensed grower meets Health Canada regulations, there’s nothing they can do. But what are the Health Canada regulations, and who is enforcing them?”
White Rock city manager Dan Bottrill said that while current regulations may have authorities’ hands tied in dealing with licensed grow operations, the city still wants to know as soon as possible when such issues have an impact on residents.
There could be continuing safety problems at a number of properties within the city – including bad wiring, other fire risks, presence of chemicals and potential mould issues – as former licensed grow operations are decommissioned, he said.
“The message is: we’re interested in these operations,” Bottrill said. “While we are currently limited in what we can do, we want to do our best to make sure public safety is not at risk.”
Van Vliet and her family moved into their home seven months ago. In spite of the visible presence of a senior, the next door household doesn’t seem to conform to any expected residential pattern of activity, she noted.
“I’m not out to slay my neighbours. I have no problem with my neighbours. I’ve tried several times to go to them about this, but the front gate is usually locked. I’ve even flagged down one of the residents, physically, to talk to me, but all I get is ‘no English, no English.’”
Van Vliet says she has seen a steady traffic of men parking in the pay lot across the street at night, walking to and from the home.
“They stare up here and glare at me,” she said. “They’re dodgy.”
Van Vliet is not being naive, she insists.
“I lived in the West End for years. I’m not the White Rock ostrich with her head in the sand. I support marijuana rights. I’m not against people growing pot, or smoking pot, particularly for medical conditions… but I don’t want to be in danger because of others.”
Since the first news reports appeared, the smell of marijuana has subsided, she said.
“And last night all the lights were on, there were five vehicles parked out front and (there appeared to be) a big discussion going on.”
Van Vliet said she is frequently asked whether she has fears as a result of speaking out on the issue.
“I have fears for my safety, yes, but I wasn’t safe before, with this going on and the potential fire hazard,” she said, adding she and her husband are glad they own dogs and that their property is protected by surveillance cameras.
“I’m not the only one who’s concerned about this,” she noted, adding that while many may be prepared to speak privately, they aren’t prepared to take a stand publicly.
“I respect that, but as the mother of a special-needs child, I’m used to speaking out. You can’t live your life in fear. What am I going to do – sit down like a little victim? Fear doesn’t give you the life you want – it makes you the victim of other people’s decisions.”
A Health Canada spokesperson promised PAN further clarification of current regulation and inspection policies for licensed growers, noting they should comply with municipal and provincial regulations.