Norfolk hit by ‘tsunami of neglect’ over cannabis: PSB says

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Norfolk settlement supervisor says progress is being made

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The Norfolk County Bylaw Enforcement Supervisor reported this week that progress is being made to bring problematic cannabis grow operations to heel.

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Jim Millson told the Norfolk Police Services Board on Wednesday that bylaws staff had handled more than half of known nuisance operations, which he estimated at 124 last year.

To date, Millson said nearly 70 people have received more than 100 charges of rule violations. The Norfolk Provincial Offenses Court imposed more than $100,000 in fines, Millson added, while the court issued 10 cease and desist orders to the producers.

“It’s not a question that we’re not engaged,” Millson said. “I would say we are extremely engaged with our cannabis community. All this with a cannabis investigator and a part-time investigator.

Millson was responding to a delegation led by retired policeman Orval Slack. At the meeting with Slack, concerned Norfolk residents representing all seven wards were present.

As in previous appearances before the Norfolk PSB, Slack said the local response to problematic cultivation operations was woefully inadequate.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Slack urged the Norfolk OPP and Norfolk Council to do more to eliminate this problem. Slack said “Illegal cannabis cultivation equates to guns, gangs, meth, and organized crime.”

“The fact that organized crime has taken root in Norfolk County on such a large scale should be alarming to every member of Norfolk Council, OPP command staff and every member of this Police Services Board” , said Slack. “It is certainly of great concern to people in Norfolk County.”

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All parties to Wednesday’s discussion agreed that the problem arose several years ago when the Trudeau government passed the Cannabis Act. The aftermath, said PSB member Willy VanHeugten, was “an absolute mess”.

The major problem in Norfolk and elsewhere is the establishment of large legal cannabis farms in the agricultural zone of built-up areas. In recent years, Norfolk County has filed hundreds of complaints about odors, light pollution and safety concerns related to potential criminal activity.

Norfolk County was among the first municipalities in Ontario to tackle the issue of built-up area setback requirements. Greenhouse operations that have air filtration to control odors should be at least 150 meters from sensitive land uses such as homes and schools. Unscreened greenhouses should be at least 300 meters away.

Whatever Norfolk County is doing, Slack said it’s not enough. He noted that between July 1 and October 15, 2020, Ontario police raided 52 cannabis grow operations for alleged violations of the law. Three of those raids took place in Norfolk and Slack says none were initiated by the Norfolk OPP.

Last year, Slack said Ontario police conducted 41 raids, including none in Norfolk. Slack and associates surveyed every municipality in southern and eastern Ontario. While Norfolk recorded up to 124 illegal crops, Slack said the second-highest municipality in the survey reported 18.

“Norfolk County has been hit by a tsunami – a tsunami of neglect to address this problem of illegal cannabis cultivation and has therefore neglected the people of Norfolk,” Slack said.

County Waterford Kim Huffman, PSB vice-chairman, said she would bring Slack’s concerns to the attention of Norfolk Council as soon as possible. Huffman added that she will present a resolution at the April 12 council meeting for the regulation of hoop greenhouses, an increasingly popular and inexpensive place to grow cannabis.

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