Getting away with a grow operation in Lake Cowichan might not be so easy in the near future.
Mayor Ross Forrest and council gave a third reading to a new safe premises respecting health and safety bylaw at the regular council meeting on Tuesday, July 24.
Lake Cowichan residents could face a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000 if convicted of a grow operation on their premises, or if their premises are determined to be unsafe or hazardous.
The bylaw defines hazardous conditions not acceptable at a residence, gives health and safety regulations as defined by the town, outlines the powers of local officials when dealing with unsafe premises, the duties of registered owners, the discontinuation of services if a premises is declared unsafe, and the penalties or fines faced by offenders.
Hazardous conditions are defined as bypassing a hydro, water, or gas meter except when such a bypass has been specifically permitted by the town, applicable utility, or government authority; a building where exhaust vents from hot water tanks, furnaces, or fireplaces exhaust into or within a building; hazardous materials exceeding the amount allowed by definitions in Schedule E of the bylaw.
The bylaw goes on to say that no one may occupy a residence where things like proper exits are blocked, electrical circuits or connections exceed the amount permitted under the Electrical Code, where there is a visible accumulation of mould around the interior of windows or other structural components of the building, or where there has been an unauthorized alteration to a building.
The bylaw also outlines the conditions upon which a residence can again be occupied if a grow operation has been discovered.
A building inspector is allowed to enter a building to inspect whether there is compliance with the bylaw, carry out a special safety inspection, and take action under part six of the bylaw. The building inspector or the fire chief, if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a residence has undergone an unauthorized alteration, may post a notice on the building that prohibits entry or occupation of the building.
Home owners are also charged with reporting any suspicious activity related to a grow operation within 24 hours of discovery.
“The main thing that people have to understand,” said Coun. Bob Day. “Is that this bylaw will be complaint generated, just like all other town bylaws.”
Residents do not have to worry that the town building inspector will be making surprise visits to homes in Lake Cowichan.
“The town is not here to chase down residents or to invade privacy,” said Day. But adds that the moment activities at a residence endangers someone else, town officials will become involved.
He gave a few examples, saying that if someone were to rent a house and they noticed that there had been unauthorized changes to a home — ventilation ducts being re-routed back into the home, an excessive amount of mould on the inside of windows, or chemicals — that they could phone and report these issues to the town. Or, a rental agency might report such bylaw infractions.
“This started as a controlled substance bylaw, but we were advised not to go there,” said Day.
Day adds that the town, along with the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the province are looking at decriminalization of marijuana.
“It’s not that difficult to get a medical marijuana license,” he said. “But they are controlled by the health department, not by the RCMP. They have no idea where they are. They can get the information, it is just not at their fingertips.”
He reiterated that this bylaw is about the safety of Lake Cowichan residents.
“This is about keeping people safe. We have a lot of rentals here.”
The final reading of the bylaw will take place before the next regular council meeting on August 28, at 6 p.m. The public is invited to the meeting to express their concerns or simply to have their input.
If passed at that time, the bylaw would go into effect right away.