Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Fatal fire could ignite Senate debate on home growing

For Canadians looking forward to growing their own cannabis at home after legalization, a tragic fire in British Columbia couldn't have come at a more delicate time.

Two people are dead after a Monday morning blaze at a home in Surrey, B.C. The fire was accidental, local officials said, caused by "electrical equipment used in the licensed medical marijuana operation" at the home. Two other occupants of the home survived with minor injuries, according to a press release from the City of Surrey.

In this case, the indoor cannabis farm that caught fire appears to have been perfectly legal. "This residence has a medical marijuana license in effect," said the press release.

Ironically, the residents of that Surrey home might not have had the right to grow their own if not for a 2016 federal court decision that involved lots of testimony about the alleged harms of grow-ops in Surrey: Allard v. Canada.  

In that case, the defendant (the federal government) relied on testimony from Surrey fire chief Len Garis to argue that allowing home cannabis cultivation increases the risk of fire. In the end, Justice Michael Phelan decided he couldn't "put any significant weight" on the fire chief's testimony. As a witness, Garis "was not credible and was biased," wrote the judge:

"He was an active public advocate against cannabis cultivation. His report provided no analysis or context for the Court to accurately judge the purported fire risks. Instead, it was painfully obvious that his entire study was motivated to support a cause — his own personal view against residential growing operations."

Of the Surrey fire chief's testimony, Justice Phelan wrote, "it was acknowledged that the risk of kitchen fires is higher than the risk of fires caused by residential cannabis cultivation… Finally, he admitted that if a certified electrician carried out the modifications necessary at a production site, the alleged risk can be addressed."

Even if the risk of fires in home cannabis grow-ops is less than the risk of kitchen fires, it appears to have become deadly reality in this case.

This fire comes just as Senate committees review the government's Cannabis Act. A number of senators, especially Conservatives opposed to cannabis legalization, have expressed concerns about a provision in the law that will allow Canadians to grow up to four cannabis plants at home for their own recreational use.

This fire in Surrey will almost certainly be brought up in Senate debates in the near future, used as evidence that allowing home cannabis cultivation could have deadly consequences and that the Cannabis Act should be amended to ban the practice.

Will any senators be willing to speak up in defence of home cannabis cultivation? The Leaf News will keep an eye on the proceedings.

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  • No weed at Stampede: Calgary city council put the kibosh on any kind of public cannabis consumption after legalization, including vaping and edibles.
  • Cannabis camping: Nova Scotia will ban outdoor cannabis use in all outdoor public spaces, with an exception for rented campsites.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Modern public health messaging: Public Safety Canada used a Facebook "chatbot" to spread its pre-legalization "Don't Drive High" campaign amongst the youth.
  • Housemongers fear grow-ops: The Ontario Real Estate Association, like other real estate groups across the country, isn't happy about the idea of home cannabis cultivation, and wants more restrictions from the provincial government.
  • Yet another dispensary hold-up: Masked men are suspected of robbing a Halifax marijuana dispensary at gunpoint, then robbing its customers before fleeing the scene.

What Next

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