Medical marijuana grow-op in Coombs legal — for now

Medical marijuana licence holder Mitch Waller of Coombs says he is worried about looming changes coming to the marijuana industry which could see his home-based grow operation made illegal.  - CANDACE WU PHOTO
Medical marijuana licence holder Mitch Waller of Coombs says he is worried about looming changes coming to the marijuana industry which could see his home-based grow operation made illegal.
— image credit: CANDACE WU PHOTO

A licensed medical marijuana grower and user in Coombs said he's "relieved" Health Canada's ban on home-grown pot slated to take place today has been halted by a federal court decision.

Mitch Waller said he suffers from scoliosis and for the past two years has been legally growing his own marijuana from home.

Waller said his medical marijuana licence (MML) allows for 100 homegrown pot plants and 20 grams of dried bud, which translates into roughly 30 joints.

Waller, 36, describes scoliosis as "a burning stabbing pain like having a knife jabbed in your back."

He said pot helps him cope with his debilitating disease and looming changes to the system keep him awake at night.

"I used to take 120 T3s every month," Waller said. "Now I use marijuana and it's absolutely the best source of medication I've found."

Waller said he uses the full 20 grams he is permitted every day.

Health Canada's proposed regulations would put an end to home-grown pot productions, directing approximately 40,000 medical marijuana licence holders to buy from large-scale commercial operations.

But Waller said he won't be able to afford the changes.

"If I have to buy through a commercial site it will cost me $8 to $12 per gram times 20 grams per day times 30 days a month," said Waller, who estimates the new system will cost him approximately $6,000 per month while he only receives $900 per month on disability.

Waller said growing his own crop costs about $2 per gram.

"I feel totally victimized," he said.

Additionally, Waller said he uses specific strains of marijuana he's personally cultivated which are tailored to his needs — something he isn't sure commercial growers will be able to do.

At the Parksville Chamber of Commerce dinner March 13, Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter explained changes to the medical marijuana program are "a good thing."

"There are legitimate cases of people who need it (marijuana) for pain and the program was designed for those individuals," said Hunter. "But what happened was the MML program got out of control really fast in that organized crime got their hands into it."  Hunter said "it doesn't take much" to obtain a MML.

According to a Health Canada news release issued March 21, when the Marihuana Medical Access Program was introduced in 2001, less than 100 people were authorized to possess pot — that number has grown to nearly 40,000.

The release claims the program has seen "significant unintended consequences on public health, safety and security."

Moreover, Health Canada said the high value of marijuana on the illicit market increases the risks of home invasion and diversion as well as presents fire and toxic mould hazards.

Hunter said the program hinders RCMP investigations.

"How do you get a search warrant when they are supposed to have a grow operation?" he asked rhetorically.

Hunter referenced a recent investigation which saw a single licence-holder allowed 560 plants and 25.2 kilograms of dried bud.

"That's 70,000 joints," said Hunter. "A production like this pulls $2.2 million on the street."

Hunter expressed sympathy for "legitimate folks" using the MML program.

"I feel bad for them," said Hunter. "It (the program) got ruined quickly."

Hunter said changing the legislation regarding medical marijuana would be "an interesting transition period."

Last Friday's federal court injunction came as a welcome surprise to Waller, who said he had full intentions of shutting down his crop; however, now he's "waiting in limbo."

"(The temporary injunction) buys nine to 12 months of time," said Waller. "But after that it's anybody's guess what will happen."

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