Pot odour leaves some residents fuming

RedeCan Pharm’s marijuana production facility on Foss Road. Residents in the area have complained of a pungent odour emanating from the site in recent weeks. VOICE PHOTO

Pelham is home to five marijuana grow operations, and one of them is a little too fragrant, say locals


[Editor’s note: On its website the Town of Pelham provided an incorrect email address for those wishing to file complaints with Health Canada.  The correct address is: [email protected] ]

A strong smell emanating from RedeCan Pharm’s marijuana production facility on Foss Road has upset many in the area, with affected residents calling on some authority—any authority—to do something about it.

Fonthill resident Barry Fokejewski, who lives near the intersection of Haist Street and Welland Road, first noticed the smell in mid-January, and initially thought that it was an actual skunk.

“I was talking to a woman who lives nearby, and she said, ‘Do you smell the skunk?’ I thought she meant a skunk. She said, ‘That’s not a skunk.’”

Craig McDermott, who lives on Deborah Street, was similarly unimpressed by the not-very-functioning odour mitigation system meant to reduce smells emanating from the operation.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said last Wednesday, a day when the wind sent the odour in his direction.

“Today it’s not so much a skunk as it is just marijuana,” said McDermott. “I grew up in the sixties. I know what marijuana smells like. [Out there] is like putting your nose in a bag of what we used to call, ‘cheap weed.’”

RedeCan project manager Tim D’Amico said that the site has had its odour mitigation system in place since October, when the facility became active.

“It was installed when we got our license, since it’s a requirement,” said D’Amico.

D’Amico speculated that the odour nearby residents have been smelling is of the “odour control solution.”

“This is not a simple charcoal system,” said D’Amico, referring to a typical odour absorbing setup.

“It’s a blend of essential oil vapours. I can’t smell anything—maybe that’s because I’m just used to it.”

Upon hearing that the odour control system was apparently up and running to spec, residents were no more impressed.

“That doesn’t make sense,” said Barry Fokejewski, who lives northeast of the facility. “If the system is ‘working,’ it’s not working.”

The smell seems to be able to travel some distance, too. Barb Christopher, of Young Sod Farms, said that it has often reached as far down Foss Road as her farm—which is a kilometre and a half away—over the past month. “If you take the radius of that, it’s a pretty big area,” she said.

Residents along Welland Road in Fonthill have also reported the odour to the Voice.

Both Fokejewski and McDermott said that many residents have made complaints to the Town, while D’Amico asserted that Pelham’s bylaw officer has been on site and affirmed that RedeCan is compliant.

When asked a series of questions about odour concerns, Pelham’s Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald did not answer, instead issuing a general news release late last Friday. The release asserted that the matter fell under federal jurisdiction.

“We are encouraging residents to contact Health Canada directly,” the Mayor is quoted as recommending. “By connecting with the correct party, who has the appropriate jurisdiction, residents will hopefully have their concerns remedied in a timely manner.”

But Health Canada’s Senior Media Relations Advisor Maryse Durette said that the opposite is true. Though marijuana production is indeed regulated at the federal level, Durette said, “For citizen complaints related to odour, they would have to contact the respective municipality.”

Additionally, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change makes it clear that odour falls under the Town’s jurisdiction.

“The Ontario Municipal Act gives municipalities the authority to regulate nuisance odours,” it reads. “Municipalities also have bylaws that govern zoning, operational permits, licences and waste handling (which may be a source of odour).”

Section 129a of the Municipal Act allows municipalities to “prohibit and regulate with respect to…odour.”

The Town’s press release also encouraged residents to fill out a formal bylaw service request, though evidently not so that enforcement would be undertaken, but rather, “so that resident complaints can be tracked at the municipal level.”

A Health Canada guidance document asserts, “Those areas [within a site where cannabis is present] must be equipped with a system that filters air to prevent the escape of odours and, if present, pollen.” Guidance documents do not carry the force of law.

“This is a typical case of everyone trying to pass the buck to someone else,” said McDermott, adding that he thinks that the Town is going to have to take responsibility and do something about residents’ concerns.

Alberta’s association of municipalities advises its members that, “community standards legislation may also be used to regulate the conduct of [marijuana] production facilities within the municipality…the legislation may set out standards for matters such as noise, odours, unsightly property or other such ‘nuisance’ conditions. These requirements may be enforced through warnings, ticketing, compliance orders or in significant cases even a court application for an injunction requiring compliance.”

The association gives as an example a bylaw in Kelowna, British Columbia, that prohibits “the manufacture, growing, storage, transfer or disposal of a substance that emits odours, fumes or particulate matter that disturbs the enjoyment, comfort or convenience of individuals.”

McDermott said that he thinks the Town ought to pass a bylaw like Kelowna’s.

Pelham’s Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Macdonald declined repeated requests to answer the questions initially posed by the Voice.

“The smell is totally unacceptable in the long term. People won’t be able to go outdoors—to have barbecues, use their pools, or even keep their windows open,” he said.

In response to the concern of residents, D’Amico said that RedeCan has been seeking ways to address the smell.

“We contacted the manufacturer of the [odour mitigation] system, and they said that they stand by their product,” said D’Amico. “But obviously, the last thing that we want to do is create a smell that bothers people.”

D’Amico said that in the past week RedeCan has made plans to experiment with different essential oils to create a different smell.

“It’s the same base solution, but these oils will be more of a citrusy, lemony smell.”

D’Amico explained that marijuana production is now classified as agricultural, not narcotic.

“We think we’re going above and beyond other agricultural places—if you drive by a chicken farm, or a place with cows, you’ll definitely notice a strong smell there and they don’t have a system like we do,” he said, though acknowledged that those farms are often far from dense neighbourhoods.

News of RedeCan’s efforts were of some consolation to McDermott.

“If it smells like an orange grove out there, that wouldn’t be bad at all,” he said, although he also encouraged any residents bothered by the current odour to submit a bylaw request form to the Town. The form may be found online at http://bit.ly/pelham_skunk

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