Residents fed up with marijuana grow operations in their neighbourhoods see a victory in a City of Winnipeg plan to limit where those operations are allowed.

A number of changes to create a new medical cannabis licensing regime are proposed in a report presented to the city’s property, planning and development committee on Wednesday, following pressure by numerous residents.

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Under the changes, cannabis cultivation facilities would only be permitted in manufacturing zones and would require air filtration/exhaust systems.

The changes would also require minimum setbacks between buildings where marijuana is cultivated and/or stored that are near residential properties, schools, public parks or playgrounds.

As well, bylaw changes would require designated growers to obtain and maintain a valid business licence.

The changes would apply to designated cannabis production facilities — sites where medical cannabis is cultivated by someone authorized by Health Canada to produce a limited amount on behalf of someone with a medical prescription, the report for the city committee says.

Currently, the city’s policy and bylaw framework does not place any limitation on designated growers.

As well, they aren’t required by Health Canada to notify the city of their approvals or place of operation, the report says.

“As a result, these designated grow operations are setting up in a range of zones and locations across the city, often within residential neighbourhoods and properties zoned for residential use,” it says.

Some people living near homes where substantial amounts of cannabis are grown have previously told CBC News they have become prisoners in their own homes and say the smell is like living near hibernating skunks.

Ed Kolodziej is part of a group called Citizens Against Residential Cannabis Grow-Ops, which has lobbied the city to make some bylaw changes to limit the operations near their homes.

“We have to get these large-scale grow ops out of these neighbourhoods,” Kolodziej told councillors on the committee, saying they cause “emotional and physical harm” to residents.

The group believes there are over a thousand of these type of operations across Winnipeg.

Ed Kolodziej, with Citizens Against Residential Cannabis Grow-Ops, speaks to councillors on the city’s property, planning and development committee on Wednesday. He told councillors a report that contains suggested bylaw changes on cannabis cultivation ‘may not be perfect, but it’s very good.’ (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Carmen Nedohin, who is also with the lobby group, told the committee the proximity of her house to a large grow operation affected how she lives.

The grow operation was “adjacent to a park, a playground, a schoolyard where over 500 children played each and every day,”  Nedohin said.

“The stench was so bad that not only could we not enjoy our own backyard, we couldn’t have our grandchildren over because of the fear of what could potentially happen next door.”

According to the report, the changes would allow the city to “conduct inspections, suspend or revoke a licence, or issue a fine if there are health and/or safety concerns.”

Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) applauded the proposed changes but urged the committee to go a step further, saying the city should send a letter demanding or requesting Health Canada set a limit on how many plants can be grown in a residential property.

“Nobody can consume that much cannabis,” Eadie told the committee.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie says the city should lobby Health Canada to restrict the amount of cannabis allowed to be grown under medical certificates. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The recommended changes were also applauded by Peter Squire of the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board, who told the committee residents shouldn’t have to live near such operations and said the city was “setting an example” for other municipalities.

The real estate board is also lobbying Health Canada to close loopholes in its licensing regimes.

Kolodziej praised the city and singled out Couns. Eadie, Janice Lukes (Waverley West) and Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) for championing the cause.

“Legislation in Canada is in its infancy. And this report may not be perfect, but it’s very good,” Kolodziej said. “And with the lack of examples from other jurisdictions, Canada or Winnipeg will truly be a leader in regulation of large scale rules.”

If approved by the property and planning committee, the proposed changes would still have to be approved by full council.

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