Cannabis Legalization: Will Local Communities Face Concerns About Home Growing?

Tony Coulson

As Canada moves closer to legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use, the devilish details are starting to reveal themselves.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, is now the law of the land. As of October 17, Canadians will be able to legally smoke cannabis recreationally. Residents of most provinces will also be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants for their own personal use.

The provision for home growing has been one of the most contentious aspects of legalizing cannabis. Prior to Bill C-45’s passage, the Senate passed an amendment (later rejected by the federal Liberal government) that would allow the provinces to set their own rules around home growing, as Quebec and Manitoba indicated they do not want their residents growing their own plants. Organizations such as the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) also urged a moratorium on home growing, citing concerns about how home growing will impact property owners and neighbourhoods.

The provision for home growing has been one of the most contentious aspects of legalizing cannabis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government, however, view home growing as a critical component of legalization, as they argue allowing people to grow their own plants will help shrink the black market.

But while the federal and provincial governments sort out the framework for home growing, it will actually be local municipalities that are most affected by its impacts, as they will be responsible for managing neighbourhood-level complaints about residents growing and processing cannabis plants.

A recent Environics survey of Greater Toronto Area (GTA) residents finds that the concerns about home growing raised by the Manitoba and Quebec governments, the CREA and others, are widely shared among the public:

  • Seven in ten GTA residents are very or somewhat concerned about being exposed to the odours associated with people growing and processing plants in their homes.
  • Two-thirds of GTA residents are concerned that home growing will lead to higher levels of crime in neighbourhoods where people are growing plants.
  • More than six in ten are concerned about fires being started in homes where cannabis is being grown.
There is a significant gap in the degree of concern regarding these issues between people who currently use cannabis (or who intend to do so once it becomes legal) and those who will abstain post-legalization. Non-users represent about three-quarters of adults in the GTA.

As one might expect, non-users are much more likely than current and would-be users to be very or somewhat concerned about issues related to home growing. Still, even among users, the proportion who express concern about these potential impacts of home growing is significant: almost half of those who will be using cannabis once it becomes legal are conscious of, and concerned about, how home growing will impact their day-to-day lives.

Given that significant proportions of both groups – users and non-users – expect at least some trouble to result from home growing, municipal officials may be faced with a significant increase in the number of complaints if the proposed policy becomes a reality.

Municipalities in most parts of Canada will have to figure out how to navigate situations where neighbours’ complaints about cannabis odour compete with residents’ right to grow their own plants. It is quite likely that bylaw enforcement and other staff will face increased demands if public concerns about crime and property damage come to pass as Canadians cultivate plants at home.

At the local level, striking a balance between managing the complaints and concerns of residents in a way that does not unduly burden municipal resources may prove a difficult task.

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