Conservatives continue to call for an end to medical cannabis “loophole”

| David Brown

Conservatives continue to call for an end to “loophole” of personal and designated medical cannabis production regulations. 

Reflecting concerns from their ridings, several Conservative MP’s have been calling on the federal government to close what they say are “loopholes” in cannabis legislation that is being abused by organized crime. 

These concerns are reflected in several Ontario communities who are seeking ways to deal with what they say are large-scale, commercial operations often hiding behind licensing that is intended for personal medical use. 

Similarly, many recent press releases from law enforcement have also used the term loophole to describe the personal and designated medical grow program. 

In August, Detective Inspector Jim Walker, OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team said organized crime and criminal elements abuse the system via a loophole. 

“Not everybody who has a registration under the personal or designated production regime under Health Canada is abusing. What we’ve found, though, is that organized crime or criminal enterprises have now used this as a loophole to grow well over what their allotment is.”

Similarly, following a raid early this year Detective Brad Corner of the Durham regional Police Drug Enforcement Unit in Ontario said the lack of monitoring of the system is helping perpetuate the abuse by criminals. 

“The monitoring of individual licensed growers is clearly not happening on a scale required,” says Detective Brad Corner. “In order to keep an eye on these operations, someone needs to check on them at least once during the growing season, and that just isn’t happening.”

The medical regulations in question, which have been in place in Canada in some form for nearly 20 years, allow for those authorized by their doctor to use cannabis for medical purposes, can grow or designate someone to grow cannabis for them. 

Although the previous Conservative government in 2012 sought to repeal this legislation and replace it with a fully commercial production system, a subsequent court case forced the government to reinstate the program. 

Unlike commercial production licences that are intended for sale into a commercial supply chain, these personal and designated medical grows are not subject to the same kind of regulatory oversight. Because of this, many municipalities have felt their hands were tied in how to manage them, beyond basic bylaw enforcement. 

However, anyone growing under the guise of one of these licenses but growing over the limit, or engaging in commercial trafficking, is not protected and subject to law enforcement action. 

Nonetheless, several Conservative MPs are seeking to make the issue a partisan one, placing the blame on the current federal Liberal government, who created and enacted Canada’s legalization regime in 2018.

On July 22, Diane Finley, the MP for the Ontario riding of Haldimand-Norfolk called on the government to close a “loophole” that allows large scale grow ops to operate in residential communities. 

“Currently, a loophole in the federal medical marijuana regulations is allowing large-scale grow ops to emerge without any of the protocols to which the regular licensed marijuana producers are subject to. Area residents are forced to deal with light pollution, an overwhelming smell and safety risks. We also have reports that these operations are fuelling the black market. Will the minister please tell us what steps she is taking to close this loophole?”

On October 1 Raquel Dancho, MP for the Ontario riding of Kildonan-St. Paul, referred to concerns around personal and designated medical cannabis growers, calling for this “loophole” to be closed. 

“Mr. Speaker, under the Liberal government, Health Canada is permitting dozens of large-scale medical cannabis grow-ops with hundreds of plants to operate in the suburbs of my riding. One family suffered a break-in after their home was mistaken for the grow-op next door. Health Canada is refusing to share critical information that law enforcement needs in order to shut down any illicit grow-ops. Medical cannabis can be grown safely, but there is a loophole that is impacting the safety and quality of life of my constituents. Will the health minister be putting their needs first and close the loophole immediately?”

On October 23 Derek Sloan, the MP for the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington said the legalization framework itself was broken, calling on the government to listen to municipalities’ concerns. Unlike his colleagues, Sloan doesn’t even distinguish between commercial and personal/designated medical growers.

“Mr. Speaker, I recently met the Reeve and CEO of Stone Mills, a beautiful community in my riding. Like many municipalities, it has been inundated by the presence of organized crime groups that are running illegal cannabis operations worth many millions of dollars. Municipalities like Stone Mills are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs after police raids. All agree that the framework pertaining to legalization is broken. Will the minister commit to hearing the concerns of these municipalities and addressing them during the upcoming review of the Cannabis Act?”

On November 2 Kyle Seebackm, the MP for Dufferin-Caledon, says he has written to the Minister of Health six times about the issue. 

“There is an issue in my riding, and it is all across the country. Licences are being granted to grow marijuana in places that are not municipally zoned to grow. I have written the Minister of Health six times over the last nine months on this issue, as has the Town of Caledon. As a response, we have heard crickets: absolutely nothing.

“There is a reasonable and simple fix for this: Do not approve applicants unless they have the appropriate municipal zoning. It could be a box on the form. When will the minister take this reasonable, simple fix and implement it?”

On November 6, Scot Davidson, the MP for York-Simcoe, which has seen some very large busts this year of illicit grow operations, refers to the “abuse of personal medical exemptions”.

Loopholes in the Liberal government’s approach to cannabis legislation has communities across Canada reeling. Illegal cannabis production operations are popping up everywhere through the abuse of personal medical exemptions. The result is that prime agricultural land is being taken over. Odour and light pollution is overwhelming residents, and crime is on the rise, with law enforcement hamstrung and unable to intervene. When will the Liberals stop compromising communities and close the gaping loopholes in their cannabis laws?”