Illegal grow-ops sees Norfolk tagged as Cannabis Capital of Canada

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Federal Health Minister Patty Hadju will receive an invitation from Norfolk’s Police Services Board to explain what she is doing to close “loop holes” that allow surrogate cannabis growers to produce thousands of plants a season for a handful of individuals who have prescriptions for medical marijuana.

The police services board settled on this course of action after learning on Sept. 23 that Norfolk has made it as “The Cannabis Capital of Canada,” albeit not in the way the county envisioned when the Trudeau government liberalized regulations governing the consumption of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The legal production of marijuana in Canada is under the auspices of Health Canada, which is part of Hadju’s portfolio.

On July 22, Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley asked Hadju in the House of Commons when she was going to address “loop holes” that allow large-scale marijuana grow operations to establish in built-up areas where odour, light pollution, chemical contamination and fire hazards have become an issue.

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“We also have reports that these operations are fuelling the black market,” Finley said. “Will the minister please tell us what steps she is taking to close the loop hole.”

In her reply, Hadju gave assurances the issues raised are of grave concern to her department.

“Mr. Speaker, it is important that Canadians have confidence that we are properly regulating the marijuana industry, including producers of medical marijuana,” Hadju told the House. “I take this very seriously, and it is a priority for me. I will endeavour to look into the specific complaints and come back to her office with some resolution.”

George Santos of Simcoe, a civilian appointee to the Norfolk police services board, contrasted Hadju’s assurances with the ongoing proliferation of massive, disruptive designated-grow operations which are producing thousands of plants in excess of their federal permits.

“This was said July 22 – two months and a day later,” Santos told the board on Sept. 23. “And we’re talking about something still that everyone should be up in arms about. I think this frustration should be put to our federal minister of health.

“I’m truly troubled by this. Someone has to take leadership on this. I’ve got a young family, and these grow operations are too close for comfort.”

A month ago, a co-ordinated enforcement action across southern Ontario netted police 101,000 illegal plants from designated grow operations and unaffiliated greenhouses. Of these, 60,000 were seized from a single greenhouse in Norfolk County.

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At last Wednesday’s meeting, PSB members were provided with a map of Norfolk with suspected illegal greenhouse operations highlighted with red dots. Santos said “This reminds me of a radar screen at Pearson International Airport with all the planes coming in.”

The police services board and senior officers with the Norfolk OPP were responding to a deputation from Debbie France, Daphne Schuyler and retired police officer Orval Slack. The trio have hosted well-attended open houses in Norfolk on the issue of disruptive cannabis operations and their proliferation in the apparent absence of federal oversight.

The trio’s message that illegal cannabis “equals gangs, guns, meth and organized crime” resonated with Willy VanHeugten, also a civilian member of the police services board.

“This is a problem,” VanHeugten said. “If nothing is done, it will get worse. This is serious stuff. We need to put our heads together and get some action.”

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