About 400 people filled the gymnasium at Waterford District High School on Jan. 11 to hear a variety of concerns about cannabis production in Norfolk County.
The information session was organized by south-end Waterford residents Orval Slack and Daphne Bernard Schuyler. The pair have so far amassed 162 signed complaint forms that have been submitted to Norfolk County.
“At the edge of our subdivision, there are some homes that back onto a field,” said Slack, a retired police officer. “In that field is a series of five or six hooped greenhouses.”
Slack said he has no issue with L1 or Part 1 cannabis producers, such as FIGR Norfolk, whose representatives noted their 20,000-square-foot facility in the area of Grigg Drive and Park Road in Simcoe employs 25, has no windows, emits no odours, and is adjacent to established industrial and commercial businesses.
“Any municipality is struggling to find additional business, which result in additional jobs and tax revenues,” Slack said. “Those L1’s will contribute to that without having a negative impact on whoever’s around it.”
Slack, who worked as a police officer for 38 years, does have concerns with L2 producers that are unmonitored, designated cannabis growers.
L2 operations are often established in barns or former greenhouses, and Slack said odour is not the only issue.
“My concern is that it’s the criminal element that being allowed to come into our communities, set up business and not be challenged by anyone,” Slack said.
He cited a police raid in Leamington last year that saw the seizure of thousands of plants, other narcotics, weapons and more than $200,000 in cash.
“The criminals are using legitimate licences from Health Canada to grow marijuana, and are pooling their licences together and growing beyond licensed amounts,” Slack noted.
Deb France lives beside an unmonitored, designated medicinal cannabis grower on the 14th Concession, south of Waterford. While not opposed to marijuana, she has been advocating for production standards, operating procedures and odour controls at L2 operations, with the health and safety of nearby residents in mind.
“There is not a moment in the day that it does not control our thoughts and our energies,” France noted. “The obnoxious odour takes your breath away, you can taste it on your lips, it burns your eyes, penetrates your home and makes you ill.”
France says the question of adverse health effects from the odour won’t be realized until the long term.
“Sadly I fear that my family are the test subjects,” France said emotionally. “I’ve seen my daughter-in-law suffer migraines, my grandchildren coughing and gagging. If this isn’t an adverse effect, I don’t know what is.”
France says the grower near her was authorized to grow 1,356 plants for four prescriptions of 69 grams per day each, which she estimates is 3,450 per cent higher than the national average.
“My family has not opened our windows for over three years, and our cars wreak of the odours,” France said. “But our biggest fear is safety, and last August that fear was realized by an armed robbery on a Sunday afternoon, in close proximity to a multitude of small children.”
A retired banker, France said she is also concerned about deteriorating property values that may lead banks to decline granting or renewing mortgages to homes near unregulated, unmonitored facilities.
Mat Vaughan, principal planner for Norfolk County said people shouldn’t be restricted from growing cannabis for their own medical purposes or consumption, but thinks Health Canada didn’t consider how to regulate the number of plants and relied heavily on doctors giving prescriptions out.
“Doctors are over-prescribing in big ways,” Vaughan said. “The average allotment is two grams per day, but can be as much as 10 to 20 grams per day for cancer patients. What we’re seeing in Norfolk and across Ontario is prescriptions for 100, 150 and 200 grams per day.
The planner says that means hundreds or thousands of plants growing at any given time.
“Five thousand plants will yield 16,000 pounds of cannabis in a year,” Vaughan observes. “It’s pretty clear it’s funnelling into the illicit market.”
Vaughan says he is hopeful the province can create standards around production and guidelines that all municipalities can use to regulate cannabis production.
An undercover detective with the OPP Marijuana Enforcement Unit told the crowd that efforts are being focused on stemming the flow of illegal cannabis being grown for medicinal purposes.
“A $700-million to $1-billion illicit trade remains wide open and active across Ontario with a variety of products not addressed by legislation,” the detective said. “Organized crime remains highly engaged in all aspects of the criminal chain pertaining to illicit cannabis.”
The detective noted that having shut down many storefront businesses and dispensaries, much of the trade has now switched to online sellers.
Slack was pleased with the turnout with Saturday’s information session.
“I think we started a conversation that not only has to happen in the community, but at all three levels of government as well,” Slack said noting that the number of L2 operations in Haldimand-Norfolk has grown to 70, from 38 about a year ago.
“We have to tackle this on a united front, and there is strength in numbers.”