A medical marijuana grow operation licenced by the federal government has been shut down by the Town of Ponoka.
Robert Koteles, who rents land on 5112 60 Avenue, legally grows medical marijuana plants for his health. He has been using a Sea-Can in Ponoka since October and has the papers to prove it. But complaints from neighbours over the container and its contents have caused the town to shut down the operation.
“We were not concerned with the use,” says Betty Jurykoski, planning and development officer. “He has a Health Canada licence to grow medical marijuana.”
The town has no control over Koteles’ licence but there were concerns about the storage unit being used on residential property. There is some allowance for Sea-Cans on a person’s property, she explained.
“We do also allow them in temporary situations,” said Jurykoski.
If a homeowner is a victim of a flood or a fire or is renovating their home, then a Sea-Can is allowed. In May, Jurykoski approached Koteles and said a development application would be needed for him to continue using the container.
“What Mr. Koteles neglected to do is get the proper municipal approval before moving in the Sea-Can.”
In this circumstance the town was unsure how to proceed with the storage unit being on the property and the application was sent to his neighbours to comment. There were three or four concerns expressed, she explained.
The town takes into account comments from neighbours. “We have to ask the neighbours because we’re not sure how we feel about this or how they feel about it.”
“His application was refused because a 10 feet by 40 feet Sea-Can does not fit in a residential area,” says Jurykoski. “It doesn’t meet the intent of a residential district.”
The Town of Ponoka Land Use Bylaw gives specific regulations: “The development authority may refuse to issue a development permit for a building, the design, construction or treatment of which is, in his opinion, incompatible with the neighbouring buildings.”
The Town of Ponoka does not have the authority to shut down a licenced operation.
Jurykoski says there were complaints from neighbours over the smell and proximity to adjacent property. Koteles’ application was refused so he applied to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, a quasi-judicial board.
“They refused it,” said Jurykoski.
In a letter, Edlen Ellingston, chairman of the appeal board, explains the decision. “Sea-Cans are not suitable structures for placement in a residential district and are better suited for commercial and industrial areas.”
The letter points out no accessory buildings shall be located on a front yard and accessory buildings need to be set back at least one metre from side property lines. Decisions of the appeal board are final.
Koteles was given to Sept. 7 to move the metal container but he spoke with Jurykoski and was to have it moved by Sept. 10.
He read a statement to the appeal board and in his letter said he was asked to replace another storage container, which was considered unsightly. He replaced the container and was under the impression there would be no other issues.
“I was again called by the by law enforcement officer “Willy” (Willie Jones) and told that I would receive no more issues from the town,” the letter states.
The conversation turned to the contents of the trailer and Koteles explained its purpose.
“Willie laughed and said that I would be getting a serious call very soon from ‘higher up the food chain,’” Kotels told the appeal board.
He eventually spoke to Jurykoski and was told the unit must be removed.
“I was told to get my disgusting and dangerous unit out of Ponoka or I would be paying the town after they removed it from me. I explained my position and Betty and I agreed to begin to process a building permit for the pre-built building that would only be temporarily on site until Nov. 11, 2013,” states the letter.
Koteles said in an interview he does not feel the unit is an issue for the neighbourhood and uses the marijuana only for chronic medical issues. The land is rented from registered owner Kevin Jones as Koteles has no place to grow the plant. After checking with the landowner’s lawyers, Koteles moved in.
He sought permission from the bylaw officer when he first moved in last year and was told there were no issues as long as the container was not unsightly but that changed after he explained what the unit was being used for.
Koteles, 49, takes the marijuana for his health and for anxiety. “I have anxiety due from having my face smashed.”
He has been dealing with medical issues since he was a young man and he wanted to find relief without taking narcotics such as Oxycontin. He became addicted to that drug, which caused other complications.
He has had a medical marijuana permit since November 2011 and lived in Red Deer until his grow unit there had to be destroyed. His only issues have been with his neighbours and police have been understanding of his situation. He says their biggest concern is over his safety.
“It’s been vilified in the news. It’s been vilified in the schools. It’s been vilified in so many directions nobody realizes it’s just like anything else. And if you treat it properly it can be used as a medicine,” he explained.
The federal government is phasing out home production of the drug and Koteles wants to change that. He has been working with the Medical and Cannabis Resource Centre (MCRS) in Vancouver to advocate to the federal government for approximately 160 licenced growers. MCRS wants growers to explain how this decision negatively affects them.
“I’ve put $80,000 into this,” said Koteles.
The last date he can grow marijuana is March 30, 2014. “The impact on me is unbelievable. They want me to pay $10 to $12, maybe $15 a gram for my personal medicine.”
He eats nine to 12 grams per day of a special marijuana bread he makes. The medicine prescribed by doctors is a lower grade than what he grows.
According to Rade Kovacevic, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, there were fewer than 500 authorized patients taking part in a program called Marijuana Medical Access Program. There are more than 26,000 patients in the program.
Medical marijuana refers to the use of marijuana as a physician-prescribed therapy to reduce the pain or discomfort associated with some medical conditions or to lessen the side effects of some traditional medical treatments.
It is used for a variety of ailments and conditions, including
• Easing nausea and vomiting.
• Stimulating appetite in chemotherapy and/or AIDS patients.
• Reducing eye pressure in glaucoma patients.
• Managing chronic pain.
• Treating gastrointestinal illnesses.