03/02/2017 03:53 EST | Updated 03/02/2017 03:53 EST

Should Landlords Be Able To Deny Tenants The Right To Grow Pot?

An MP from British Columbia recently introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons requiring housing tenants who rent to get explicit permission from their landlords if they want to grow medical cannabis in their home.

Playing off the ever-so-popular discourse that grow operations are inherently dangerous, I have to ask, where is the evidence?

Starting with the idea that insurance deems cannabis grow operations, even legal ones, as "high risk," this presents a very complicated situation. What mechanisms are in place to demonstrate this high risk?

vicente fox pot Legal cannabis grow-operation for a Canadian patient with a legal medical permit. (Getty)

While there is no easy answer, the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) -- a response to a medical cannabis court case which deemed the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) nether accessible or affordable -- was created to allow medical patients another avenue of access to affordable medication: growing it themselves.

The issue is a complex one. Cannabis is routinely not covered by insurance agencies because it doesn't have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). While the absence of a DIN is not inherently a reason to deny coverage, this bill has the potential to really undermine the federal government's response and introduction of the ACMPR.

While I would argue the ACMPR was never really a comprehensive way to address access and affordability -- not everyone wants to or can grow their own cannabis coupled with start-up costs -- there are already many hurdles in accessing medical cannabis in Canada.

Some have been alleviated by the ongoing program which relies on licensed production (LP) and distribution of dried cannabis and cannabis oil through the mail. However, cost is undeniably an ongoing issue, despite best efforts to offer low-income pricing or discounts to those registered with particular LPs.

Cost is undeniably an ongoing issue, despite best efforts to offer low-income pricing or discounts.

Layering on this additional rule -- one which would require permission from landlords -- will undoubtedly make the ACMPR a moot point. The complications of insurance, coupled with the dominant discourse that growing cannabis is high risk and dangerous, you can bet that most home owners will deny their tenants the ability to grow.

What's missing from this conversation is an actual assessment of real harms and risk around personal growing. Indeed, we often forget cannabis is just a plant that can be grown in a garden. In reading Susan Boyd and Connie Carter's 2014 book,Killer Weed, we're reminded of how exaggerated concerns around the personal growing of cannabis have actually been in Canada.

Boyd was part of the recent Task Force on the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, as well as an expert witness in the case that led to the introduction of the ACMPR (you can read her affidavit here).

marijuana Anne McLellan, Chair of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 13, 2016. (Reuters)

In the book, and in Boyd's affidavit, they look at 15 years of media coverage, and compare it to the evidence of actual harms, including the link of grow operations to firearms, fires, mold and general public safety.

Here's what they found: scholarly research and RCMP data was limited when it came to truly supporting the harms often discussed in media coverage. This includes lack of data on the various associations with organized crime and growing operations, the presence of firearms, the risk of mould, and risk to children and public safety.

In fact, using this research, the authors demonstrate that much the RCMP data is actually inflated. For example, the RCMP data include all grow operations brought to the RCMP's attention, and not just cases that warranted attention.

We would again be disproportionately affecting people who need that cost relief of growing their own cannabis the most.

Boyd and Carter also paid particular attention to the risk of fire, noting that there was not much evidence that supported the idea that cannabis grow operations increase the rise of fire. One reviewer of the book went as far as to explain that, " ... if politicians and the media were held to the same professional standards as physicians, they would be sued for malpractice."

While to some extent, I believe homeowners should have some say in what happens in their rental properties, this needs to be balanced with the rights of individuals to grow their cannabis for medical purposes and have access to affordable medicine.

This is rooted in a strong public health tradition in Canada. The fact is there are many authorized Canadians that are tied to a low income or disability support, so may not be current or future home owners, particularly when we consider the current housing markets in places like Vancouver.

In a climate where we are hearing about "evidence based" policies and our government's commitment to implementing solutions based on the facts, this bill is anything but that, and plays off of unfounded media panic. What it does mean is that we would again be disproportionately affecting people who need that cost relief of growing their own cannabis the most.

Perhaps the answer lies in a more flexible policy that would allow medical cannabis collectives where individuals can come together and grow in one authorized location outside of the home.

But either way, policy makers need to prioritize the effect these blanket bills have on our most vulnerable Canadians and focus on solutions that include those voices.

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