Halting the proliferation of illegal marijuana grow-operations across Norfolk County has been time-consuming and labour-intensive – and it promises to stay that way this summer and beyond.
That’s one of the takeaways from a review of Norfolk bylaw enforcement actions since the issue of nuisance grow-operations presented itself several years ago.
In his report, bylaw enforcement supervisor Jim Millson says the county has identified 100 grow-operations in Norfolk that are operating outside of the law.
The owners of these properties will receive letters this month saying the county is aware of this activity and that it would be in their best interests to cease-and-desist until they comply with all relevant federal, provincial and municipal regulations.
“Our best understanding of known cannabis production sites in Norfolk over the last three years is 109 locations,” Millson said. “Of those, we have been able to close nine files as unfounded as they were either not growing, were in compliance with zoning, or the matter involved criminality and was referred to the OPP.
“In just the last year, bylaw has laid charges at 20 different production sites, charging 39 producers with a total of 75 offences.”
In his report, which was presented at the Norfolk County council meeting on June 8, Millson says the number of suspect grow-operations may be lower than estimated due to several greenhouse production facilities collapsing this winter because of snow loading. Building-code compliance and the use of inferior materials are among the many issues identified with these operations. This in turn has required a considerable devotion of time and resources from the county building department, according to the report.
“The end result was – and can be – a building which poses significant safety risks to the workers inside as well as significant nuisance impacts on the community nearby,” Millson says.
When Health Canada partnered with the private sector for the production of medicinal marijuana several years ago, Norfolk council looked forward to the county becoming “The Cannabis Capital of Canada.”
However, a subsequent court ruling deemed unconstitutional federal barriers to the production of medicinal cannabis outside Health Canada’s preferred grower network. The ruling allowed legal users of medicinal marijuana to delegate production to a third-party grower.
Once the federal government accepted the ruling, makeshift grow operations popped up in Norfolk and elsewhere. Odour and light-pollution complaints soon followed, as did evidence of criminal activity at some locations.
“Designated producers may grow for up to four license holders at one address, meaning just one designated producer can have up to 1,752 plants in production at any one time,” Millson said. “Designated producers can grow at least two and often three indoor crops per year of this size, and advances in growing techniques have effectively doubled the harvested value of a commercially-produced cannabis plant from $1,000 to $2,000.”
“Having that many plants growing in one location can be problematic if that site is not in compliance with applicable zoning provisions, including approvals through the site-plan control process to ensure minimum distances from sensitive uses (such as homes), appropriate design to reduce potential land-use conflicts, installation of air-treatment controls, and appropriate lighting design.”
The situation became worse in Norfolk and elsewhere last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a presentation to Norfolk’s Police Services Board, senior Health Canada officials revealed that site inspections in Norfolk and elsewhere had been suspended due to stay-at-home orders and fears of field workers contracting and spreading the contagion.