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A young marijuana plant thriving in the basement of a grow operation. (Darryl James/The Globe and Mail)
A young marijuana plant thriving in the basement of a grow operation. (Darryl James/The Globe and Mail)

No more

Ban-happy town targets medicinal marijuana Add to ...

The bucolic Fraser Valley community of Pitt Meadows may be the ban-happy capital of Canada.

The list of outlawed activities in a place where Ipsos Reid found 98 per cent of residents pleased with their quality of life is long and wide.

Be gone massage parlours, X-rated video stores, strip joints, hydroponic retail outlets, nuclear power plants, used car lots, and even giant advertising icons perched on top of buildings. Existing municipal bylaws ban them all.

Now, in a move considered a first in Canada, the municipality is set to add yet another activity banned within its borders - the production of marijuana for medical purposes.

"We are just saying 'no'," Pitt Meadows' veteran mayor Don MacLean said Monday.

Mr. MacLean said the proposed bylaw change is likely to pass unanimously at this evening's council meeting, notwithstanding the fact that production of cannabis for medicinal purposes is legal, when sanctioned by Health Canada.

"Health Canada does not control our zoning bylaws, and under this proposed bylaw, the growing of medical marijuana will be not be a permitted use in Pitt Meadows," the mayor declared.

Mr. MacLean said it is too difficult to determine which marijuana production facilities are legal and which are not, so they are banning them all.

The bylaw is not aimed at individuals growing a few marijuana plants for their own sanctioned medicinal use, he said, but at third-party operations that sell marijuana to patients who don't grow their own.

It's a safety issue, Mr. MacLean insisted.

"We are tired of grow-op houses burning down in our community and threatening the homes of their neighbours. We had two fires last year. People don't feel safe. They're saying to us: 'What are you doing about it?'"

At the same time, some growers abuse their medical marijuana licences, the mayor said, pointing to a recent swoop by police in neighbouring Maple Ridge that discovered more than 1,500 marijuana plants in an operation sanctioned to grow only 73.

Marijuana activists vowed an all-out fight against the bylaw.

"I think it is absolutely immoral and unconscionable to discriminate against Canadians who are chronically ill and who will benefit from cannabis," said Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw, executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation.

"This bylaw can be challenged and it will be challenged."

Mr. Tousaw said Canadians have had the legal right to access marijuana to ease suffering from medical conditions for the past decade. "We can't allow sick people's rights to be abridged like this, born out of baseless fears."

He said measures such as those contemplated by Pitt Meadows will merely drive people growing medical marijuana underground. "It's the old prohibition thinking. If you drive something underground, it will go away. Actually, it just makes the situation worse and more risky."

Mr. Tousaw said he had never heard of such a municipal restriction before.

Meanwhile, Mr. MacLean said residents are comfortable with the town's many restrictions. "Not one of my citizens has said to me: 'Don, you're out of line here.'"

Used car lots? "We decided that [used car salesmen with checked polyester was a 'no no'. Have you ever been down one of those streets lined with places like 'Zebra Auto Sales'?' My favourite is 'cars from Mars.'"

And the outdoor icon ban? "We don't like big coffee cups on top of Tim Hortons," the mayor said. He added: "No pit bulls, either.''

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