Medical marijuana greenhouses causing a stink in rural Ontario

You can see them and you can smell them: license holders are growing personal medical marijuana in Windsor-Essex greenhouses, and they're frustrating residents and exasperating officials.

At some locations, license holders could grow hundreds of plants in one place at one time

This property in Harrow is used by license holders to grow medical marijuana for personal use. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

You can see them and you can smell them: license holders are growing personal medical marijuana in Windsor-Essex greenhouses. It's frustrating residents and exasperating officials. 

Mary Dimilo lives right on the border of Kingsville and Leamington, just down the road from a greenhouse growing medicinal pot.

"I just noticed a skunk smell in the spring and thought I had a family of skunks in my ravine — and come to find out it was actually marijuana," she said.

Across her neighbourhood, she explained "the talk is always about the odour."

Mary Dimilo says odour is her biggest concern. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

These kinds of greenhouses have been sprouting across the county and can be found in McGregor, Harrow, RuthvenLeamington, and Kingsville — greenhouses producing medical marijuana, often next door to homes.

Unlike commercial operations, these greenhouses service people with a medical marijuana licence who have decided to grow medical pot on their own. 

"It's created certainly a lot of concerns in our community, when they're located right in between homes or right behind public libraries in the middle of subdivisions," Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos explained, adding that they're popping up left and right in the municipality.

"There's at least three, but I'm hearing it could be in the neighbourhood of dozens," he said.

Though the greenhouses have a lot of residents bothered, they're perfectly legal under Canada's Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

What are they?

These sorts of operations are considered part 2 productions under ACMPR, which allows marijuana production for one's own medical purposes and/or production on their behalf by a designated person. This is different from part 1 production, which is commercial production, and it's different from recreational production which will become legal on Wednesday. 

According to federal law, up to four licenses can be grown in one place, like in a greenhouse or on a farm, and how much can be grown depends on each person's license.

Part 2 production under ACMPR allows a person to grow their own medical marijuana as prescribed or designate another person to grow on their behalf. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The legal possession limit is up to a month's supply or 150 grams of dried marijuana. So, under multiple licenses, that could potentially mean as many as hundreds of cannabis plants on one property.

Commercial producers have a long list of regulations they must follow, like tight rules around odour control, lighting and how close they can be to residents, whereas it's much looser for part 2 growers, explained Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos. 

Difficulty keeping track

A representative for the Town of Essex has confirmed two part 2 greenhouses within its municipality: one in McGregor and another in Harrow.

And a representative for the Municipality of Leamington confirmed six part 2 producers in the municipality, though they suspect there are likely more.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos says there are at least three part 2 greenhouses in the municipality though there could be dozens. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Since part 2 license holders don't require municipal permits, municipalities aren't able to keep track of exactly how many there are within their boundaries, Santos explained.

"It's a significant concern, and it's one unfortunately we have no control over," he said, adding that he would like to see the rules tighten around these greenhouses to protect the neighbourhoods they're located in.

Property values

Residents who live near these kinds of greenhouses say they're concerned not only about the odour — they're also concerned about safety and property values.

Andy Carruthers lives in Ruthven, about half a block from a greenhouse that's growing marijuana and he's also concerned about how his home's proximity to the greenhouse might affect him if and when he decides to sell his home.

Sometimes these greenhouses are situated directly next to residential homes, like this one here, pictured in Ruthven. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"I certainly wouldn't want to buy a house right by a marijuana operation," he said.

Concerns around these greenhouses have also caught the attention of local Essex MP Tracey Ramsey. 

She says there are a lot of questions swirling around this category of production — and though she says most people are using these licenses in a responsible manner, she's concerned there are potentials for abuse.

'We're in chaos'

"When we have people who have individual prescriptions and licenses and are looking to grow multiple prescription users at one site, we really are running into a lot of questions about the amounts that are being grown on these sites," she said, adding that the quantities can be quite large in some cases.

"It's clear to us that there are some people who are operating on the fringes of what is legal in terms of growing," she said, without pointing toward any one greenhouse in particular.

Local MP Tracey Ramsey says she frequently gets calls to her office from concerned residents who live next to large greenhouses operating under part 2 licenses. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Ramsey said she regularly gets calls to her office from concerned residents who live near these larger operations, and that now, she's trying to work with Health Canada to address worries around odour and safety. 

There's also a lot of confusion, she said, about the differences between commercial production, personal-use production, and recreational production and what exactly the rules are. 

"Right now, we're in chaos essentially and it's a bit of a wild west," she said.

'Everything is legal'

Stevan Pokrajac owns two properties side by side in Harrow on which he's permitted license holders to grow their own medical marijuana. It's a significant property growing hundreds of plants.

He says that anyone who thinks these operations are teetering the line of what's legal and what isn't aren't educated in the matter.

Greenhouses growing medical marijuana under part 2 licenses, like these ones in Harrow, can sometimes be seen in or near residential areas. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"It's got nothing to do illegal whatsoever. If there's anything illegal, I want to know," he said.

"Everything is legal, otherwise it wouldn't be there," he explained, adding that he has no idea exactly how many plants are being grown on his property.

He stressed that though it might look like a lot, it's not a production facility, nor is the marijuana grown for selling, it's strictly for the license holders' personal usage.

​"The reason I allow, more or less, marijuana is because it's a medical thing, it's a personal thing, people need it, and I heard so much about it that yes, it does help certain people."

Stevan Pokrajac owns a property in Harrow on which he's permitted license holders to grow their medical marijuana. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Though Pokrajac says the production on his property is all above board, community officials feel otherwise.

Pokrajac and the Town of Essex are currently in the middle of legal proceedings around this property in relation to the production of marijuana.

The Town would not comment with more details because it is now in the courts. 

About the Author

Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Charlottetown, Toronto and Winnipeg.