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Pot farmers driven back underground following new regulations

Medical marijuana plants about halfway through their growth cycle.
Image Credit: SOURCE/ Contributed
June 26, 2013 - 8:00 AM

'THE SYSTEM IS OUT OF CONTROL'

This is the third of a five-part series on changes in the marijuana industry. Today, we get a growers perspective on the changes and how his view has changed as he went from hunted criminal to legitimate supplier of medicine and soon—criminal again. On Monday, we explained the new rules ushered in by Health Canada and yesterday we looked at how family doctors are thrust into the uncomfortable position of gatekeeper to the entire legitimate marijuana industry. Tomorrow, we look at medicinal marijuana use and the blurred lines with recreational use.

Bud is a middle-aged guy living in the Okanagan with his wife and two children. He’s clean-cut, his wife has a steady government job, and they like to entertain at their well-kept, upper-class home. But what only a few of his close friends and select family members know is that concealed in the basement, Bud has a marijuana grow operation.

He’s not what comes to mind when one thinks of a pot grower, but to say he’s atypical isn’t right either. More and more people are entering into the medical marijuana industry as designated growers through Health Canada and Bud says they’re not all what he calls “punks.”

Bud, who preferred to remain anonymous, provides for two clients; one with a prescription of three grams per day, and the second with seven grams per day. That translates as a permit for cultivating 55 plants.

Taking up about 240 square feet, Bud considers it a small- to-medium-sized grow. He invested some $17,000 in the installation and has been up and running—legally for the first time—for four months. Just like that, he went from outlaw to medical service provider. At least for now.

“I used to grow for the black market, but when I saw I could get legitimate, I jumped at the opportunity,” Bud says.

Now under legal protection, he sees the flaws in the hastily-created Health Canada system. After getting his license, he recalls asking a Health Canada representative when his start-up inspection would be.

“I wanted to schedule it so I had a deadline to finish everything by,” Bud says. “I was told there wouldn’t be an inspection.”

For the 26,000 licensed growers in the country, there are only 15 inspectors. While Bud has heard through the grapevine of growers getting inspected, he believes it’s rare and says it’s never happened to one of his own acquaintances.

“You’re almost guaranteed they won’t come and check things. If you’re not home, they can’t kick the door down,” Bud says. “It’s all left up to the ethics of the individual, and there are a lot of people that choose not to follow the rules.”

For his part, Bud makes sure he follows —or exceeds—all the building codes and has ample security because he’s just that kind of guy. Careful growers like Bud challenge Health Canada assumptions that grows—legal or otherwise—are by nature risky endeavours that must be run by big business to be secure.

“I live in this house, my family lives here. I don’t want to die in a fire,” Bud says. “I believe people run their grows like they run their lives. If you’re a gangster and don’t care, you might cram as many plants in as possible and have a shoddy, dangerous set-up.”

There’s another rule Bud follows: keep it small, keep it all. He used the mantra in his guerilla growing days to keep off the radar and avoid the cops, and now he’s interpreting the words in a new way. Unlike some licensed producers, Bud grows the number of plants specified in his permit and nothing more.

Planting more than your allotted crop, known as overgrowing, is a common way for licensed growers to earn a little—often a lot— of extra cash on the side. When pot gets diverted to the black market, Bud has to agree with Health Canada.

“The system is out of control,” Bud says. “I’m sure organized crime has infiltrated it.”

FROM LEGAL BACK TO CRIMINAL

But he’s not sure how much Health Canada’s new regulations are going to change things. Despite a drastic overhaul which will take small grows offline and transition to massive commercial enterprises, Bud says the little guys will keep growing. They will be hunted criminals once again.

“It’ll just go underground again,” he says.

As of April 1, 2014, licenses held by small 'ma and pa' grows will expire and suddenly become illegal, despite hefty investments made by people like Bud to run proper operations. Health Canada will require, among other rules, commercial steel doors, 24-hour video surveillance, and a record kept of everyone entering the restricted area. 

Bud has his doubts Health Canada’s 15 inspectors will visit all 26,000 of the formerly licensed grows to make sure they’ve been taken down. And even then, Bud says it’s the plants that are illegal, not the labs.

For Bud, cultivating marijuana is a profitable hobby. For many others, it’s a full time job and the only source of income.

“Come March, if I were them, I’d let my system lie fallow for a while, see if I got a knock at my door, then I’d probably fire it up again.”

He says if you’re careful, you’re not going to attract cops, or criminals with an illegal grow. Police like to say running a grow-op, legal or not, is a risky businesses because it attracts invaders who pick up on the smell from the road, or notice other characteristic giveaways. 

“Grows can be dangerous, they can attract crime, but they don’t have to be that way,” he says.

“Crop-rips usually involve someone you know, an associate usually. There’s no point stealing it if it’s only half done, you need to know when the crop is ready or it’s hit and miss,” Bud says. “I’m a family guy, I live a quiet life, I don’t have dodgy people coming and going, so I’m not afraid of invasions.”

He says the dangerous grows are typically the ones that garner the most attention.

“They’re the ones the RCMP find and they get splashed all over the news, giving growers a bad name,” he says. “The safe, well-run ones never see the light of day.”

Bud sees his role in the medical marijuana system as that of a service to those who can’t grow for themselves.

“These are people that have a real life need and need someone who has the experience,” he says.

He enjoys growing pot and supplying it to those who need it, and would like to keep going. But he’s only legal for another nine months before the deal’s off.

“The authorities like to perpetuate this image of growers as reckless criminals, but we’re not,” he says. “I’d be happy if marijuana was legalized tomorrow. It’s the gangsters who wouldn’t be.”

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call (250)309-5230. Follow on Twitter @charhelston

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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