Newfoundland and Labrador ponders where residents will be allowed to home-grow marijuana

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The Newfoundland and Labrador legislature has now passed provincial cannabis legislation, including allowing adult residents 21 and over up to four cannabis plants at home, with a maximum of four plants per home.

It will come into effect only after the federal government passes its legislation, and with public notice.

But the exact details around growing at home, including if you can grow outdoors and under what conditions, will largely be determined in provincial regulations still to come.

The additional regulations are being crafted by civil servants, to be presented to the Liberal cabinet for consideration and final decisions.

Right now, a lot of questions remain.

During the debate on Wednesday, for example, Progressive Conservative MHA Jim Lester asked about quality control on home-grown product.

Independent MHA Paul Lane made comments and read a related letter full of questions from a constituent. Lane asked whether or not people will be able to grow cannabis plants on their front lawn.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne suggested growing on the lawn might be allowed, maybe with a specific type of protective fencing, but it was an example of something still under internal discussion.

“It’s the reason we have these debates, because officials are listening,” Osborne said.

No home grow?

The idea of permitting “home grow” at all has been challenged by other provinces, with Manitoba and Quebec banning it.

The suggestion has been that could lead to provincial-federal political sparring and future court battles, while the Senate has recommended the federal government look at making the ability for provinces to say “no” a written part of the federal law.

Newfoundland and Labrador has not gone down that road either way.

Bill Stirling, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Realtors, said there are some concerns as the province heads toward legalization. It can, for example, be very different given different plant sizes and “four plants” can amount to quite a bit, he said, if the goal is to grow your plants as big as possible.

Another consideration is humidity and mould, if the plants are kept in a small space inside with no ventilation, or a larger space with good air flow.

In the case of illegal marijuana grow ops, Stirling noted, people have attempted electrical work without a licence and tried to improve ventilation and air circulation, ultimately with spotty work.

In the case of illegal grow ops, he said there’s no registry available to realtors in this province for busted properties that might have had only cosmetic repairs after the fact. And there’s no formalized way to determine the level of remediation undertaken on a property for illegal or (in future) simply problematic cultivation — meaning it can be unclear if issues have been addressed after misuse of a property.

“It’s going to be very difficult if the house has had issues like that,” he said, noting good home inspections are essential.

Stirling said cannabis legalization hasn’t been a common conversation for the association to this point.

“Certainly, at the federal level, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has raised some concerns that are valid right across the board,” he said.

What the Senate heard

On April 30, in a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, CREA CEO Michael Bourque said allowing growing at home “creates risks,” even at a maximum of four plants.

“We question whether personal cultivation is even necessary. Canada has the production capacity to deal with new demand for recreational cannabis thanks to a well-funded, well-capitalized cannabis industry,” Bourque said. “The company operating in Smiths Falls, Ontario, the former Hershey chocolate factory, is now employing more people than Hershey ever did.”

With ready access in stores and through home delivery by mail, he argued, there is no need for allowing growing cannabis plants at home.

“If we use our experience with medical cannabis production as a baseline indicator, overproduction will be an ongoing issue within a legalized recreational regime,” said Inspector Bill Spearn of the Vancouver Police Department, in the same Senate committee session. “We believe that home production will result in an increase in calls for service concerning odour, overproduction, fire, flooding, and landlord and tenant disputes.”

At the same time, CEO of Anandia Labs Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor in the botany department at the University of British Columbia, suggested at least some of the fears around allowing plants at home were being overblown, and it’s unlikely most people will choose to grow cannabis.

"I read the testimony of one witness to this committee last week who said that a 100-unit high-rise could contain 400 cannabis plants under the proposed legislation,” Page said. “While perhaps factually correct, I think this is an exaggeration.

“Canadians can produce their own beer and wine at home and they can grow tobacco for personal use as well, but the vast majority buy these products from stores.”

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