When Brad got a phone call from an unknown number recently, he ignored it. Then came an unexpected text message: the caller was a City of Calgary official, and he wanted to talk.
"He phoned back about two hours later, and I answered his call," says Brad. "I recognized the number from the text message."
"He just said, 'We're aware that you have a marijuana grow operation on your property, and we'd like to inspect it.'"
Brad was surprised. His home cannabis garden is perfectly legal: he's a registered medical cannabis user, and holds a Health Canada licence to cultivate marijuana for himself and on behalf of one other person. (The Leaf News is not publishing Brad's last name to protect his privacy.)
At first, Brad hesitated to agree to an inspection.
"He became a little more confrontational — still polite — and said, basically, 'We need to see it. It's a safety inspection. I'm not going to count plants, I only want to inspect the building for mould and fire (safety issues).'"
Brad consented, and they agreed on a time for the inspection. Right after hanging up, Brad reviewed his Health Canada licensing documents.Advertisement
"It says right there that I must comply with all municipal and provincial laws, including inspections."
Brad called up Health Canada to ask what he should do, and the federal health regulator advised him to comply.
Last week, a municipal building code inspector, a public health inspector with Alberta Health Services, and a third-party electrical inspector showed up at Brad's Calgary home for their appointment. The inspection only took about five minutes, Brad says.
The trio of inspectors checked for mould in Brad's garage where he grows eight cannabis plants using deep water culture hydroponics and LED lighting. They also examined the electrical wiring in the grow room, and took a look at the house's electrical panel to make sure there were no dangerous modifications. Brad offered to show the inspectors the outdoor portion of his cannabis garden, but they weren't interested.
The inspectors recommended Brad install a ground fault interface for the extension cords that run along his garage floor to mitigate any risk should the cords come in contact with water. Otherwise, Brad's legal grow-op received high marks, he says.
"They said, 'We don't see many like this, where you're venting (moist air outside),'" Brad recalls.
"I kind of felt like it was a proud moment."
Brad's experience raises a question: how did municipal inspectors find out about his medical cannabis garden in the first place?
Wayne Brown co-ordinates the City of Calgary's Safety Response Unit, a building inspection team. He says inspections of residential medical cannabis gardens in Calgary are carried out by the Coordinated Safety Response Team (CSRT), a cross-agency group that includes his team, Calgary Police Services, Alberta Health Services, local power utility Enmax, and the city's bylaw office.
Among its other duties, the CSRT has inspected 85 Health Canada-licensed medical cannabis gardens in Calgary since the spring of 2013, according to Brown. The team can only investigate addresses that have been reported to the Calgary Police Service and confirmed by Health Canada, he says.
"If it proves to be a Health Canada-approved residential med grow operation, then that information is given to us, and then we contact the owner and do a safety inspection on that residential property."
Calgary's inspection teams aren't specifically investigating how cannabis is grown; they only want to make sure home medical cannabis gardens are compliant with the Alberta Safety Codes Act.
"Plumbing and gas violations, electrical issues, building issues, structural issues — have they changed the structure to accommodate the grow? And health violations, given that it's a grow-op, there's a strong likelihood there's going to be a lot of moisture that's created in the growing process that could lead to mould, and that's where the Alberta Health Services inspector, that's where they do their work," Brown says.
A spokesman for Alberta Health Services confirmed that inspectors from the provincial health authority are sometimes requested to attend inspections if the city has concerns with a particular location or operation. A spokeswoman for the Calgary Police Service said they don't routinely inspect personal medical cannabis gardens, but they do check whether a garden is registered with Health Canada in response to complaints from the public.
According to Health Canada data, there were 14,707 active licences for personal medical cannabis production as of March 2018. An additional 911 registrations allow designated growers to produce cannabis for someone else.
Health Canada can only share personal information related to those licences with law enforcement in the context of an investigation, and with provincial and territorial medical licensing authorities under specific circumstances, according to a spokesman.
To that end, the federal cannabis regulator maintains a 24/7 dedicated hotline that law enforcement can call to confirm whether specific individuals are authorized to possess or produce cannabis for medical purposes, the spokesman said.
Brown stresses Calgary's inspection teams are limited with how many houses they know about.
"As these houses are identified with some kind of significant issue that would bring a tip to Calgary police, those are the ones we will be acting on," he says.
"Hypothetically, if we had the locations of all residential med grows in the city of Calgary, I think we'd have to sit down with our partner agencies and basically discuss (inspecting them all). Would we then act, and inspect all of the med grow properties within the city of Calgary? I don't have the answer to that question."
Brad says he's not bothered that the inspection of his property likely resulted from one of his neighbours tipping off police, although he's not sure how anyone could have found out about his secret garden.
"I think it's an opportunity to be transparent about cannabis use, and maybe combat the stigma," he says.
All told, Brad feels his inspection experience was a positive one.
"I want to be able to say, I'm doing this in my garage with little to no impact to my life, negatively. It was inspected by the government, who gave me no guff about it. And now I feel like I'm running a legitimate grow in my house."