Residents of Old Kildonan say the presence of medical cannabis grow-ops in residential areas is posing health and safety risks to homeowners and their families.

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Residents of Old Kildonan say the presence of medical cannabis grow-ops in residential areas is posing health and safety risks to homeowners and their families.

The issue has percolated for many years, though the concern has escalated since cannabis was legalized in October 2018. Residents are once again turning their heads to the problem.

Eddie Calisto, who has lived in Amber Trails for 29 years, is among the residents of Old Kildonan who claim large-scale medical cannabis grow-ops in the neighbourhood are threatening the health and safety of homeowners and families. Residents have created a petition requesting the City of Winnipeg to take action against residential grow-ops.

PHOTO BY SYDNEY HILDEBRANDT

Eddie Calisto, who has lived in Amber Trails for 29 years, is among the residents of Old Kildonan who claim large-scale medical cannabis grow-ops in the neighbourhood are threatening the health and safety of homeowners and families. Residents have created a petition requesting the City of Winnipeg to take action against residential grow-ops.

"We started walking through our neighbourhoods and over the winter we noticed … the horrid smell that was coming out of these different homes," Eddie Calisto, who has lived in Amber Trails for 29 years, said, referring to the skunky odour of cannabis.

Calisto, 61, said she believes houses in the neighbourhood are being purchased for the sole purpose of establishing large-scale grow-ops.

"Why are people buying $400,000 and $500,000 homes, spending $5,000 to $10,000 on setting up these homes for the purpose of growing for their own use? It just doesn’t add up," she said.

This is one of the reasons why Calisto and fellow residents believe there is criminal activity linked to many of these alleged grow-ops, and as a result, have created a petition requesting the City of Winnipeg to take action.

Eddie Calisto claims large-scale medical cannabis grow-ops in Old Kildonan are threatening the community’s quality of life. She is one of the 140-plus residents who have signed a petition that requests the City of Winnipeg to implement a bylaw to remove these grow-ops from residential areas.

PHOTO BY SYDNEY HILDEBRANDT

Eddie Calisto claims large-scale medical cannabis grow-ops in Old Kildonan are threatening the community’s quality of life. She is one of the 140-plus residents who have signed a petition that requests the City of Winnipeg to implement a bylaw to remove these grow-ops from residential areas.

The petition calls on the City to implement a bylaw to remove commercial-scale Health Canada-approved medical cannabis grow-ops from residential communities. The petition, containing upwards of 140 signatures, calls for grow-ops of 20 or more plants to relocate to industrial zoned areas.

The document describes various potential effects of large cannabis grow-ops in houses:  mould, fire hazards, pungent odour, declining property value, and being a target of crime and/or violence.

"In many cases, these homes are vacant. The windows are often covered, air conditioning units run year-round, yards are poorly maintained, and multiple security cameras are installed. The stench that emanates from these properties is often unbearable," the petition states, estimating that at least 30 homes in Old Kildonan have been purchased for this purpose since 2017.

Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) said she has been fielding complaints from residents and co-organized a community meeting in July to discuss their concerns.

"City council has directed our own public service to reach out directly to federal counterparts to advance this discussion. Given this activity is federally regulated, I have called upon the federal government to provide greater guidance in this area and have had collaborative discussions with MPs and MLAs serving in north Winnipeg," she said in an email statement.

Sharma added the City is researching how other jurisdictions across Canada are handling similar issues in order to inform Winnipeg’s own decision-making.

Kevin Lamoureux, the member of Parliament representing Winnipeg North, said he rejects the idea that an individual would need more than 10 plants and ultimately believes there is a criminal element involved in this matter.

"The essence is that you have laws that allow for individuals that get prescriptions to grow medical cannabis or cannabis for medical purposes. And you have these unscrupulous characters ... that, through loopholes, have found ways in which they can grow excessive amounts of cannabis, ludicrous amounts of cannabis. They are doing a huge disservice to our communities, they are causing all sorts of problems."

Kildonan-St. Paul MP Raquel Dancho claims part of the problem is Health Canada is blocking law enforcement from accessing essential information needed to perform investigations. Dancho brought the matter to the House of Commons on Oct. 1:

"Health Canada is refusing to share critical information that law enforcement needs in order to shut down any illicit grow-ops. Medical cannabis can be grown safely, but there is a loophole that is impacting the safety and quality of life of my constituents," she said in her reply to the Liberal’s throne speech, which took place Sept. 23.

Dancho told the Times she believes a "reasonable limit" needs to be placed on the number of plants an individual can have.

"I do feel that this is connected to criminal activity. We don’t know for sure, though — that’s being investigated. But for what we can see in other provinces that have connected it to criminal activity, I think we should be concerned."

Dancho referred to a bust which took place in Ontario’s Niagara Region last month: provincial police seized more than 100,000 plants grown under the guise of medical use but were actually being rerouted to the illegal market.

Lamoureux and Dancho said they will continue to pursue a solution at the federal level.

To spread more awareness of the issue, Calisto said, the group of petitioners will soon launch a Facebook page and distribute flyers across the neighbourhood.

"The email list is growing by the day."

Sydney Hildebrandt

Sydney Hildebrandt
The Times community journalist

If The Buggles’ 1979 breakout single were about Sydney, it might be called Print Killed the Radio Star. Before she joined Canstar Community News, Sydney was an anchor and a reporter for a few local news radio stations in rural Manitoba. After realizing she enjoyed writing more than speaking, Sydney moved to Winnipeg just months after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with degrees in journalism and geography. Through clenched teeth and frostbitten fingers, she has come to appreciate Winnipeg — numbing winters and all. When she’s not in the newsroom, Sydney can be found playing card games, listening to music, and writing content for her friends who are too cheap to hire a PR team. Sydney has a strong heart for community news and believes every neighbourhood, town and city is better off because of it — although she may be biased. Sydney loves learning about communities and what makes them tick, which is why she’s grateful to be a reporter covering northwest Winnipeg neighbourhoods, where resilience and innovation is abundant. She can be reached at sydney.hildebrandt@canstarnews.com

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