The BC Government will soon have new tools to apply civil forfeiture rules against illegal cannabis growers.
Once passed, Bill 21, the Civil Forfeiture Amendment Act, 2023, will allow the government to begin legal proceedings against property connected to illegal cannabis grow operations.
BC’s Civil Forfeiture Act allows the government, through BC’s director of civil forfeiture, to begin legal proceedings against property linked to unlawful activity. The rule change is part of several new proposed amendments to the provincial forfeiture laws.
The section relating to cannabis plants is an amendment to the Civil Forfeiture Act’s part four which deals with “proceedings, presumptions and proof” and is intended to give more weight to efforts by the province to address illegal commercial growers.
The bill passed committee on April 6. It now needs to pass third reading and be passed into law.
The rule change will take two different approaches. For property associated with a lived-in home, known legally as a “dwelling house,” any property that has more than five times the legal number of plants would be considered for forfeiture.
Since federal and provincial rules allow for up to four plants to be grown on a property where people live, any property with 20 or more plants could be considered the proceeds of or connected to unlawful activity.
Federal regulations also allow for personal and designated production of cannabis. Any cannabis plants found to exceed five times the number of plants allowed under a medical authorization would also be considered for forfeiture.
The number of plants a personal or designated medical grower can have at any given time is based on the grams of dried cannabis a person is authorized to use by a healthcare practitioner. An authorization for one gram a day allows someone to grow up to five plants inside, two outside, or a mixture of the two.
The average daily amount authorized by health care practitioners for individuals registered with Health Canada for personal or designated production was over 40 grams per day as of March 2022, a number Health Canada, as well as provincial and municipal governments, law enforcement, and politicians, have said is an example of abuse of the medical program.
In response to questions from the opposition during second reading of the bill, Mike Farnworth, BC’s Public Health and Safety Minister, said the number was chosen to ensure they are targeting those growing well outside of any allowable limits.
“The number is in place because it is significantly more than what the grower may be…. Let’s say you have a medicinal licence to have, let’s say—I don’t know—20 plants or 40 plants, five times is a significant increase, and that’s the target,” said Farnworth. “It’s that significant increase over what you’re licensed to be growing.”
Farnworth also clarified in debate with Mike Morris, the opposition’s Shadow Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, that the amendment would not apply to property on federally-held First Nations’ lands due to provincial civil forfeiture rules not applying to federal land. However, if law enforcement does seize property from First Nations land that is no longer on First Nation land, such as a vehicle or a trailer used to grow or sell cannabis, it could be subject to forfeiture.
Some cannabis retailers in BC filed suit against the BC government in 2022, saying the province was failing to enforce cannabis regulations, especially on First Nations land.
Minister Farnworth also noted that civil forfeiture laws are separate from property seizure laws, which allow law enforcement to seize property.
The rule change, once passed, will not apply to a proceeding that began before the date it came into force or begins within 12 months after it comes into force.
The BC government also passed new legislation in 2022 that gives it more power to target illegal online cannabis retailers.
Featured image via BC RCMP.