By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: June 23, 2013
Two years ago, Ron Drewry spent close to $300,000 setting up his business in the business park. Now, recent events have left him doubtful about whether it was the most prudent investment.
Right next to him, work is in full swing on a legal, commercial grow-op.
The scale of the operation is grand.
The exact size can’t be determined, but three retails spaces covering more than 10,000 square foot seemed to be rented out for the grow up.
The windows are almost always covered, and the bay doors shut, but one recent day, an open bay gave a fleeting glimpse of the operation.
Rows of drywall lined up the space, while one worker piled up high intensity discharge lights in a corner.
When asked about the owner, the worked asked to come back half an hour later.
Minutes later, the bay door was closed.
Drewry found out about the grow-op three weeks ago, and has since sought out a meeting with the Mayor.
He’s concerned about the grow-op, even though he understands, even appreciates, the fact that the business is being set up legally.
“When I rented out the building, this isn’t the kind of tenant I expected to see,” he said.
In the past few years, it’s estimated that 5-6 commercial growing operations have quietly set up shop in the business park.
It’s hard to pinpoint the precise number, however.
Even the local police are unaware of the exact number or the scale of legal grow-ops in Squamish; Health Canada doesn’t share that information.
Sgt Wayne Pride of Squamish RCMP, however, estimates there are close to a dozen legal operations in town.
And most of them, he says, are medium to large operations.
“It’d be nice to know about the legal operations in Squamish,” he said.
Lack of precise knowledge means the police have to call Health Canada every time something stirs their suspicion.
On average, Sgt. Pride says local officers have to call Health Canada six to seven times in a month to find out about the legality of an operation.
If more plants are being grown in a legal operation than permitted, they are seized, but there is a judgement call involved.
“We are not looking to harass people who are growing marijuana legally,” he says.
“But if someone is trying to sell that to our kids in the school, we will take a serious view.”
There are plenty of loopholes in the Health Canada system of permits.
Since the information on legal grow-op isn’t shared with the local police, it’s hard for Health Canada to find out whether the legal permit holder is exceeding the limit of the permit and selling pot illegally.
The federal government is planning to overhaul the system by 2014, stopping the personal-use production licenses and replacing it with commercial producers.
These commercial growers will need to meet security and site-design requirements, Health Canada spokesperson, Stephane Shank, told the Vancouver Province recently.
Admitting that the ‘system is open to abuse,’ Shank said the new regulation will ensure commercial growers comply with government regulation regarding fire safety, electrical use, and property laws.
The large commercial grow-op going up near Drewry’s business might be the first signs of the change that might move marijuana production from residential to commercial.
Much like the police, the district, too, is in the dark about the scale of marijuana production in Squamish.
“The district has no authority to request or obtain that information,” said district spokesperson Christina Moore.
Medical marijuana in the zoning bylaw was initiated last year by the district.
The district allows or rather restricts grow-op locations to areas zoned light industrial.
This allows it to address multiple concerns relating to safety, fire, odour control, and ventilation, etc.
Currently, there is one business licence application that has been submitted to the District from an operator who is seeking to achieve full compliance with District of Squamish bylaws.
The light industrial zoning isn’t fair, says Drewry.
“The district should at least consult with business owners before allowing marijuana production near them,” he said.