Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis is not happy the federal government is making it legal for people to grow pot at home, and said he fears the city will see increase in fires, as a result.
“I think it’s wrong headed,” said Garis, noting B.C. fire chiefs don’t support home-growing of cannabis. “It’s for the contamination and fire reasons. We don’t think it’s an appropriate place. We have no idea where they are, they have no regulatory regime. It’s a debacle.”
When cannabis is decriminalized in Canada on Oct. 17, individuals will be allowed to legally grow up to four plants at home.
Garis has long raised concern over home-growing, and B.C. fire chiefs have gone so far as to push for an outright ban, citing safety concerns, mainly.
The concern is not unwarranted.
Two men died in a house fire in Surrey’s Tynehead neighbourhood this past April, at a property where a medical marijuana licence was in effect.
Fire investigators believe the fire was accidental, and related to the electrical equipment used in the grow-op.
Medical marijuana users are already allowed to grow their own pot at home - something Garis is opposed to.
The fire chief was involved in the court battle that aimed to ban medical marijuana patients from growing their own product.
In 2016, federal court Judge Michael Phelan shot down the ban, finding a report that Garis produced in support of a ban was “biased.”
The case relied on the 705-page report, which outlined the concerns related to fire and contamination in home grow operations, studying data from licensed and illicit grow-ops in Surrey.
“I was disappointed with that but I understand this has a ton of momentum,” said Garis of the ruling, “and it’s appalling in my mind that there’s so few people who can influence an important policy in Canada, but in fact that’s what they’ve done. Fair enough. It doesn’t change my evidence, my experience, and the B.C. and Canadian fire chiefs will agree – it’s not the proper place to grow and cultivate marijuana.”
Garis said, currently, the Surrey fire department doesn’t know where medical marijuana growing is taking place.
“They’re not required to disclose,” he explained. “FOIs from previous studies in 2015-16 show there were about 32,000 licenses issues in Canada…. and 1,200 of those were in Surrey. Through our inspection processes we know there’s about 300 them, and we’ve inspected them. So we only know where about a quarter of them are.”
Garis estimated there are about 50,000 plants in the city.
“Where is this all going?” he wondered. “There’s no regular regime for home growing. Whether it’s four, or 40.”
Garis said it will be “unenforceable.”
He worried “we’re going to go right back to 2003-2004, when we were going to two or three fires a week associated with growing marijuana.”