A Calgary man, confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, faces potential eviction from his property for growing his own medicine — despite being legally allowed to do so.
Keith Gall said after the degenerative nerve disease took his ability to walk, only cannabis was able to help him cope with his pain and received a license from Health Canada to grow his own medicine as part of the government’s previous licensing program.
After making renovations to his home (to the cost of around $20,000) in order to safely grow the plant, Gall thought he would be able to produce his own medicine without issue.
Gall said he received a call from the Calgary building inspector, telling him he wanted to take a look at the property for any issues. Gall agreed, and was soon visited by an unexpected team, made up of the building inspector, a plumbing inspector, an electrical inspector, a health inspector and police officers.
“The guys went downstairs, came back up and they said that they didn’t see anything wrong basically and it was looking good down there,” Gall said. “The health inspector called back a couple hours later and said they had changed their mind.”
Gall was told by the Alberta Health Services inspector that the inspector’s supervisor directed him to shut down Gall’s grow under suspicion of mold.
The inspector also told Gall that his home needed to undergo extensive testing, requiring the homeowner to remove all baseboards, window casings, insulation and carpeting – a process that Gall was informed would cost somewhere around $30,000. More than the disabled retiree makes in an entire year.
Even if Gall pays for the work, there’s no guarantee the inspectors won’t return to the home to repeat the process – suspecting mold once again.
“They just want to shut everybody down because they don’t want anybody growing it,” Gall speculated.
Tim Moen is a qualified fire officer who was told about Gall’s situation and, deciding he needed to help, inspected the home.
“I went through his place and found no signs of mold, no fire hazard,” said Moen. “Inspectors found no evidence of mold in keith’s home but cited humidity as a reason to suspect mold and the justification for invasive testing. By that standard any house would have suspicion of mold that requires invasive testing – there’s humidity in every washroom.”
“You can’t even smell the grow-op when you walk in on the first floor – you would never know it’s a grow-op. It’s in a nice, middle-class neighbourhood. not what people would typically exact,” Moen said.
Moen said the Alberta Health Services inspector also sent a letter to Gall’s mortgage lender saying that he was running a grow-op with suspected mold in it – a move that could potentially cost him his home.
Gall was brought to a Alberta Health Services tribunal where authorities would decide if the orders for remediation were issued with proper legal authority.
Testifying on behalf of Gall at the tribunal, Moen said he believed that even if Gall’s case is decided in the homeowner’s favour the problems won’t end there.
“At the end of the hearing, the lawyer for Alberta Health Services told the tribunal that if the tribunal throws this order out that they’ll just come back again even stronger on Gall,” Moen said.
Gall said with an order to stop growing, he doesn’t have many options left.
“You can buy it from Health Canada, but it’s quite expensive,” said Gall. “I think their primary concern is that they can make tax dollars on the stuff you buy from the government. I don’t begrudge them that, that’s the government, that’s how they do things. But once we’ve got this license and I’ve spent all this money they can’t just grab it back.”
One of the pieces of evidence at the tribunal was a 2014 letter from Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi to then Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose, in which Nenshi said he was onboard with the government’s plans to shut down patients growing their own medicine in the city.
“We are very happy with the success of this program and hope our experience in Calgary can be helpful in your continuing efforts to discontinue the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) program,” Nenshi wrote. “These houses create unsafe conditions for the community at large due to criminal activity, unauthorized entry, risk of fire and health and safety concerns.”
“Here’s a progressive mayor that I think his constituents would be interested to know that he isn’t that progressive after all,” Moen said.
Moen said Nenshi’s reasoning that homes with MMAR grows in them are public nuisances because they contain code violations doesn’t make sense.
“As a fire inspector I’ll tell you that just about every occupancy I inspect is going to have a code violation, it’s my job to find those.”
Moen said the whole situation makes him “sick to my stomach” and will continue to work with Gall as the patient waits to hear back from authorities.
“This is a cutting edge case in Alberta, and I think cases like this will determine how legalization proceeds,” Moen said.