Medicinal grow-op on the move
PONOKA — Robert Koteles thought he had an ideal setup for his personal medical marijuana operation.
The Health Canada-approved grow-op is located in a high-end 400-square-foot storage container located in a side yard along a quiet residential street. The container was discreet, secure and airtight so there was no odour from the few dozen plants growing inside under heat lamps, he claims.
However, this week Koteles will be packing up the plants he was carefully cultivating at the property he was renting and calling in a truck to remove the container to a friend’s storage yard.
Koteles had to make the move after the application for his container was rejected by Ponoka’s development authority, in a decision upheld last month by the subdivision and development appeal board.
Koteles says the results are a clear case of municipal regulations not keeping pace with new developments.
“This is so new that nobody knows what to do,” he said, adding he was planning to move in November anyway.
He believes his planning troubles are also due to society’s lingering prejudice against marijuana, despite growing evidence of its medical benefits for some.
For the 49-year-old, marijuana has been a life-changer. He has been able to drop all of the numerous medications he was taking for pain relief, shed 72 kg (160 pounds) and has never felt better.
He suffers from severe arthritis pain in his upper and lower back and has been given permission to grow up to 44 marijuana plants for personal use only.
The unemployed man, who once was a marital arts instructor among many other jobs, began growing his own legal marijuana in Red Deer in 2011. But an earlier effort left him with health problems caused by mould.
He moved to Ponoka last fall and the insulated, temperature-controlled container, which replaced a smaller unit he had on site for seven months, seemed to be the answer.
“This is the only safe and productive way I can grow this stuff,” he said, adding insurance issues prevent growing inside homes.
Betty Jurykoski, a town planning and development officer, said the issue for the municipality was clear: sea cans or similar containers are not suitable for residential areas. So Koteles’ application was rejected.
Jurykoski also said the container was put in place without approval and only came to the town’s attention after it was in place for months.
That the container was used as a medical marijuana grow op is besides the point. The development authority and the appeal board would have made the same decision if the container was used to store furniture.
“We were at no point concerned with the medicinal grow because that is governed by a higher authority than us. We don’t govern that, that’s Health Canada,” said Jurykoski.
“They have given him a licence to operate a medicinal grow-op. He failed to get the proper municipal approvals to have the structure there.”
Jurykoski sympathizes with Koteles and his efforts to find medical relief, but planning decisions must be made on what is best for the community. Allowing one container opens the door to other residents asking for their own yard storage units.
While the medical marijuana may not have been the primary concern of planners, when residents were asked for comment, a pair of neighbours expressed concerns.
One resident said the smell was “unbearable” and there were fears the sea container would lower property values and prove an unwelcome draw for criminal activity.
Koteles dismissed those concerns as unfounded. He has given up on Ponoka although he is considering legal action.
He plans to travel overseas soon and hopes to look at setting up a legal grow-op on a farm when he returns.
If all goes well, he hopes to land Health Canada approval to expand to the point he can supply legal marijuana to others and even plans to look at importing.