01/19/2012 01:20 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Medical Marijuana Canada: Inspectors Find Safety Concerns At Government Grow-Op In Calgary

CALGARY - The same sort of dangers and health risks lurking in illegal marijuana grow-ops have been discovered at a federally approved medical marijuana operation.

Inspectors in Calgary executed a warrant this week to examine an operation licensed by Health Canada. Building regulations investigators, with support from the police, concluded the owners violated several safety provisions.

"To find this number of safety infractions in a federally approved medical grow operation is very disturbing," Wayne Brown, who heads the co-ordinated safety response team, said Thursday.

He said the infractions included building code violations and compromised air intake. Toxins, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and potentially contaminated drinking water were also found.

Brown said there were also combustibles too close to a heat source and a natural gas line that wasn't properly installed. The only difference between illegal and legal operations is that there was no theft of power in this case.

"Evidence of this situation poses a serious safety risk to the community,” added Brown. "It was very, very similar to what we find in an illegal grow-op."

He said operators licensed to grow medical marijuana need to take public safety seriously and should ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable bylaws and safety codes.

This isn't the first time Brown and his colleagues have found a problem at a licensed facility. Last October, there was an explosion and fire at another operation.

The warrant for this inspection was obtained after a tip from a concerned citizen and armed with the knowledge of what happened last fall.

Marijuana for medicinal use has been allowed in Canada for more than a decade. An estimated one million Canadians use it to treat a variety of health problems.

Brown is concerned that there are probably other facilities in Calgary that could have the same sort of safety issues. But his department has no idea how many or where they might be, he said.

"We don't know that. Health Canada doesn't divulge that information to anyone and so we really don't have a number.

"We don't have an issue with the idea of a legal medical marijuana grow operation within the city of Calgary, but we do have an issue with them not abiding by our bylaws or safety codes. It would be great if we could inspect these properties," Brown said.

"Maybe this is the catalyst for a discussion with Health Canada to ensure these medical marijuana grow-ops are safe."

An order under Alberta's Municipal Government Act has been issued to fix the problems or the house will be demolished. Fences and placards have been installed, and the site remains secured.