B.C. fire chiefs fan flames of controversy over homegrown cannabis, despite humiliating Federal Court ruling

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B.C. fire chiefs won't give up when it comes to trying to stop people from growing cannabis at home.

In 2016 in the landmark Allard decision, the Federal Court ruled that it was illegal for the government to prohibit medicinal cannabis users from growing their own weed.

That's because the existing rules violated their charter right to liberty and security of the person.

In trying to defend the ban, the former Conservative government relied on evidence from the chief of the Surrey Fire Department, Len Garis.

But the judge in the case, Michael Phelan, gave little heed to Garis's warnings about "widespread problems with respect to improper wiring and electrical panels, unpermitted structural modifications and the visible presence of mould".

"His evidence was seriously undermined in cross-examination and in the rebuttal expert evidence of the Plaintiffs," Phelan wrote. "Moreover, the evidence was not credible and was biased."

Plaintiffs Neil Allard, Tanya Beemish, David Hebert, and Sean Davey had their own expert witness: Fort McMurray fire captain and acting battalion chief Tim Moen.

Moen testified that the Surrey fire chief "ignored alternative evidence or explanations for the cause of fires at illegal grow operations", according to the ruling.

Moreover, the number of fires at all grow sites, including illegal ones, "has stayed the same or gone down" even as the number of licensed operations grew exponentially.

"According to Garis' own fire statistics, Moen was of the view there is no difference between the estimated fire risk of houses that have a licensed grow site and other houses in British Columbia," Phelan wrote.

Partly as a result of this Federal Court ruling, the Trudeau government has passed legislation allowing Canadians to grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes.

B.C. fire chiefs carry on their fight

The Allard ruling hasn't stopped the president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C., Phil Lemire, from reiterating his call to ban cannabis cultivation in any residential dwelling in B.C.

It's Reefer Madness writ large—and you can read about it on the Global B.C. website.

Lemire is making the argument that if cannabis is available in retail outlets, there's no reason anyone should grow it at home.

Media outlets are giving his comments ample coverage without providing context about the Allard ruling. Nor are B.C. media outlets highlighting how the judge viewed the evidence of the Surrey fire chief.

"The Defendant's fire risk evidence was weak and inconsistent," Phelan wrote in 2016.

Another section of the Federal Court decision dealt with "affordability".

Phelan cited a survey indicating that the lowest-income groups had the most difficulty paying for medications.

"The people with the poorest health have the greatest difficulty affording their medicine and are the most likely to choose between their medicine and other necessities," he noted.

That, in turn, made them most vulnerable to unregulated pricing under the federal government's former medicinal-marijuana regime.

The judge also revealed that one-third of respondents in the survey were producing their own cannabis.

"Among self-producers, the most important reason for self-producing was quality (39%), followed by price (36%), avoiding the black market (29%), selection of [a] specific strain of cannabis (24%) and safety (12%)," the judge wrote.

So in effect, the president of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. wants to thwart people from growing their own cannabis for reasons listed in the preceding paragraph.

It's shameful.

Here's the link to the Allard decision for those interested in doing further research.

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