Cannabis Plant Limits (Medical Certificate) for Residential Properties
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT Alberta Municipalities collaborate with the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to advocate for the Government of Canada to amend medical marijuana regulations to place a reasonable limit on the number of plants that can be grown in a residential property or within property in a residential zoned district to preserve the health and safety of our communities.
WHEREAS Government of Canada regulations (Cannabis Regulations SOR/2018-144) allow for the use of a property in a residential neighbourhood for the sole purpose of cultivating marijuana plants with a legal Medical Certificate;
WHEREAS the number of plants that can be legally grown can exceed 500 located in one single residence with no restrictions placed on the number of plants per square foot of home and no consideration given to the health and safety of the residents in the community;
WHEREAS while the health and safety of municipal residents is directly affected by the potential for criminal activity and by the unsafe use of utilities, current regulations do not allow municipalities to ensure that the growing activities are in accordance with safety codes;
WHEREAS it is challenging for municipalities to protect the health and safety of first responders who may be called upon to enter an unsafe situation; and
WHEREAS the potential purchasing of smaller homes or the conversion of current rental property for medical cannabis production could negatively impact affordable housing in many communities.
All municipalities across Alberta, and Canada, are directly impacted by the current regulations that allow a person to purchase a property in a residential area and use it solely as a location for the growing of marijuana plants as defined by that persons’ medical license as the owner is not required by the regulations to reside in the property. The number of plants can also be increased by the property owner holding the medical growing certificate of another person with their permission.
A person holding a medical certificate allowing them to grow their own marijuana can also grow these plants in their place of residence and could also potentially have over 500 plants. These residences are not subject to any Safety Code inspections or regulations. The owner and resident are not obligated to notify the municipality, which creates a significant barrier to ensuring safety standards are met through conducting Safety Code inspections.
Any of these residences can be located next to playgrounds, recreation centres, parks, and schools. There are limited regulations to restrict these potentially large indoor “Medical Grow Ops” to be located a reasonable distance from any place that provides facilities for children.
The Government of Canada has created a loophole in the regulations that puts the health and safety of our communities at risk. The risk is not limited to potential criminal activity but also includes the unsafe use of utilities in the property and the potential for damage to neighbouring properties in the event of a fire or explosion. The inability of municipalities to control these activities puts the safety of residents at risk and puts the health and safety of First Responders at risk if they are unaware of the situation in the property whilst responding to an emergency call.
The “loophole” in the Government of Canada regulations could also negatively impact the availability of affordable housing in communities. Affordable housing options have been targeted for lower cost purchases to provide owners with a location to grow their plants outside of their own residence. The Village of Duchess has already experienced the loss of a rental property to use of the residence (800sq ft) as a location to grow medical legal plants. We are unable to verify the utility safety of the property or the safety of the neighbouring homes. A neighbouring municipality with a population of about 350 people already has over three rental properties converted to production of medical cannabis for personal use.
Research undertaken informally has provided evidence that a medical prescription for marijuana can be anything from 10mg to 100mg per day. According to the Government of Canada calculator, this means that a person can legally grow anywhere from 49 to 487 plants for their own use. This number can increase as a person may also grow for another person who is in possession of a current medical certificate.
A petition was tabled in the House in 2021. The Government of Canada’s response states:
“With each registration issued, Health Canada reminds registered individuals and designated producers that they need to comply with all relevant provincial/territorial and municipal laws, including local bylaws about zoning, noise, odour, electrical and fire safety, as well as all related inspection and remediation requirements.
Health Canada encourages all provinces, territories, and municipalities to use the tools at their disposal to confirm that individuals meet all standards and by-laws. This includes implementing any limitations on zoning, location, and nuisances, such as odour, that they feel are appropriate in their jurisdictions. Municipalities could, for example, require building permits and inspections of electrical work at personal production sites.”
This response has three critical flaws:
- It is difficult for any municipality to limit permissions granted by the federal government.
- Health Canada does not share information with municipalities regarding registrations granted to residents to grow their own medical marijuana making it challenging for municipalities to know where plants are grown.
- And, most importantly, responsibility for managing the impact of federal legislative loopholes should not be downloaded to municipalities with limited resources to address them.
The Village of Duchess is not opposed to the ability for a person to grow their own medicine but insist that this activity be in accordance with municipal health and safety practices when undertaken in a residential neighbourhood. Restrictions are in place within municipalities with respect to any activity that can negatively impact the quality of life of a neighbourhood. The Village of Duchess is not opposed to excess medical plants being grown in a light industrial zoned area.
FCM and RMA have active resolutions related to this issue and the Village of Duchess would urge Alberta Municipalities to increase the voice for change by working together with FCM and RMA to advocate for urgent and immediate change.
MP Martin Shields from the Bow River Constituency is also advocating for change along with MPs from Northern Ontario and Manitoba where this issue is already impacting community health and safety.
Health Canada’s response to this resolution acknowledges “a concerning trend with the size of certain personal and designated production sites and issues associated with them.” The response notes that Health Canada has strengthened its oversight of the cannabis for medical purposes registration program by:
Conducting additional verifications when deemed necessary;
Refusing or revoking a registration, if it is determined that an applicant has submitted false or misleading information as part of their application;
Proactively sharing information with provincial and territorial medical licensing bodies;
Verifying that there are no more than four registrations at any given production site;
Conducting inspections of personal registration and designated production sites to further verify compliance with the regulations.
Health Canada also states that there has been a steady increase in the number of registrations refused or revoked over past year, with 732 refusals and revocations in 2022, compared to 227 in 2021 and 154 in 2020. Finally, the current legislative review of the Cannabis Act is identified as an opportunity to improve the existing framework and better protect Canadians and minimize the harms associated with cannabis use.
The ABmunis Board approved taking the following actions with respect to this resolution:
Categorize the Government of Canada’s response to Resolution C1: Cannabis Plant Limits for Residential Properties as “intent partially met – further action will be taken” at a low to medium level of engagement.
Monitor the ongoing federal legislative review process and review the associated reports and recommendations when they are released.
Explore opportunities to partner with RMA on this resolution.