Kevin Diakiw / Black PressThe federal government is poised to eliminate licensed medical marijuana grow-ops in homes that have long been criticized over safety concerns and connections to the illegal drug trade.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Sunday a planned shift to a new system of federally regulated commercial producers of medical pot who will supply authorized users who have a prescription from their doctor.
"Under our new rule, only facilities that meet strict security requirements will be able to produce marijuana for medical purposes," Aglukkaq told a press conference in Maple Ridge on Sunday.
The new system - which also ends government production of medical pot - is expected to come at a sharply higher price for the nearly 26,000 users authorized to possess medical marijuana.
Local authorities have argued most medical pot home growers are producing far more plants than they require, suggesting rampant abuse of the program by licensees selling into the illicit market.
"The high value of marijuana on the illicit market increases the risk of home invasions," Aglukkaq noted. "These production operations can also present fire and toxic mould hazards."
The Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. (FCABC) said the change will improve safety in residential neighbourhoods.
"The fire service across Canada has been raising the alarm about the fire and safety risks associated with growing marijuana indoors for many years," said FCABC President Len Garis, who is also Surrey's fire chief. "We applaud the government for taking action on this issue."
Garis stressed that the fire service has never been concerned about the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
"Our focus is on how medical marijuana is grown," he said. "The fact is, medical marijuana has typically been grown in a residential setting, which is not suitable or safe for growing marijuana."
Under the previous regulations, medical marijuana grow operations operated without their local municipal government's knowledge or approval, and were not subject to health, fire, building or plumbing inspections.
Research indicates that both criminal and medical residential marijuana grow operations result in similar health, fire and safety hazards associated with unsafe electrical work, structural changes and excessive moisture.
Taking marijuana production out of homes and into a licensed commercial environment is a step in the right direction, Garis said.
"We are happy to see Health Canada commit to inspecting and auditing medical marijuana producers to make sure they comply with all regulatory requirements," he said.
"We would like to see them take a further step and ensure that all previous residential growing sites are remediated, and that future buyers are made aware that these homes were previously used to grow marijuana."
The federal Ministry of Health said it intends to implement the system by March 31, 2014, at which point all current licences to possess or produce pot would expire.
The government is holding a 75-day comment period for the public to give feedback on the proposal (at http://bit.ly/U4xtqi), which will end on Feb. 28, 2013.
The details of the new regulations are available on the ministry's website (http://bit.ly/SFDUlX).
- with files from Jeff Nagel and CTV News