Many Canadians were pleased when the federal government legalized the use and production of cannabis.
But for several residents of Parson, a legal outdoor grow operation has added a nightmare twist to summer.
In the past, Valerie Davidson, Marie-Josée Labrecque, Gale Brownlee, Larry Malinowski and Ryan Jones have looked forward to long summer days spent outdoors.
They say that changed last summer when what they describe as an overpowering, pungent odour from cannabis plants growing at Kootenay Krush Farms drove them indoors.
Nausea, headaches and lethargy are complaints common to all of them.
Kootenay Krush director David Gamage says his company is following all regulations set out in the 2018 Federal Cannabis Act. Fellow director Don Lupel concurs.
Both men say they are trying to be good neighbours.
“Fragrance, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder; how roses smell is offensive to some people and I would suggest cannabis is the same, some people enjoy it,” Lupel said.
“I am not going to deny there is a fragrance, that would be an outright lie. I would say there is a fragrance that depends on wind, heat, moisture and genetics.”
In terms of regulating fragrance or odour, Columbia Shuswap Regional District planner Jan Thingsted says in B.C., cannabis production is protected under the Right to Farm Act and that Kootenay Krush is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
But Area A Rural Golden director Karen Cathcart says the odour emanating from the farm is making several of her constituents ill.
Cathcart said while Health Canada imposed detailed odour regulations for indoor facilities in the federal legislation, there are no such regulations governing outdoor grow operations.
Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison believes the omission of such regulations in the legislation was an oversight.
“I honestly believe they never thought of it. They’re really strict with indoor filtration systems, especially if they’re near residences,” he said.
Valerie Davidson and her husband Jim are among the most seriously affected of those who came forward to share their stories with the Golden Star.
As the crow flies, the Davidsons live about one kilometre from Kootenay Krush farms.
A onetime federal government employee, Valerie was diagnosed with a little understood, inherited genetic condition, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, in the mid-1980s.
“At that point, in my 40s, the severity of my condition precluded any ability to adjust to the environment of the Lower Mainland where I lived, particularly in summer when the air quality deteriorated,” she said, noting the first summer she spent in Parson helped her body detoxify.
“My strength and mental cognition improved steadily.”
With a move to Parson, Valerie says, Jim’s health also improved dramatically. And for the next 30 years, the couple enjoyed being outside, gardening and preserving their own food.
While the first year of Kootenay Krush production in 2021 is described as being “a nuisance,” the Davidsons say their health deteriorated seriously last year.
After appointments with doctors and undertaking her own research, Valerie determined the cause of her health issues was the growing marijuana plants.
In September 2022, she wrote a letter to the BC Farm Industry Review Board, an independent administrative tribunal that offers an alternative to the law courts.
The board responded, telling the couple there could be no help because there are no regulations concerning farm odours in the province.
Gale Brownlee, 63, who lives just over one kilometre from the farm, also expressed her concerns in a letter to the farm industry review board last fall.
She wrote that between Aug. 22 and Aug. 27, 2022, the air pollution from the farm was so intense that she had a headache and was lethargic for the entire week.
As well, Brownlee indicated the odour permeated everything, forced her to keep her windows closed and made it impossible to venture out with her dog on a daily bike ride.
“My house is surrounded by trees but they didn’t filter out the horrendous smell,” she said, expressing concern about possibly decreasing property values.
“Our summers are increasingly more dangerous and limited due to wildfire smoke and now my neighbours and I will have our health and quality of life diminished by this industrial-level cannabis farm.”
Marie-Josée Labrecque and her four children, who range in age from seven to 15, live less than a kilometre south of Kootenay Krush.
“We are considered healthy, but last summer was the worst,” she said of the fatigue and headaches the family suffered.
“Eloise (her 15-year-old daughter) had to miss school. She had lung inflammation and was ill and couldn’t breathe.”
As well, Labrecque says her children go to school with clothes reeking of marijuana because she has to dry her laundry outside, and that, despite hot summer temperatures, her windows are kept closed.
“I have nothing against Kootenay Krush, but it was summer, no school, not fun,” she said.
“They left some plants for so long, they froze and we were left with the smell when it could have been gone.”
Ryan Jones’s home is adjacent to the cannabis farm.
He says the quality of life of area residents has been reduced any time the crop is in the field, mostly from the end of July through to October.
“You can’t escape the smell. It’s in my children’s bedroom when I tuck them in at night,” he said.
“We live in this part of the valley to enjoy life, we work hard to maintain that, and this has taken that away from us.”
An avid bike rider, who says his recreational time was greatly reduced, Larry Malinoski lives 200 metres from the farm.
“It is not good for my health,” he said of the odour. “There should be stricter laws; it’s not fair, there are children around and seniors.”
Cathcart, because of the issues with her constituents, began investigating the matter.
“UBC has done a lot of research on outdoor cannabis cultivation and believes there is much more to be done regarding the impact of odour and emissions,” she said.
The residents have followed MP Morrison’s suggestion by creating a petition that calls the federal decision on cannabis production inadequate and needs to be changed because the odour is making people sick.
Once complete, Morrison plans to read the petition out in the House of Commons.
“By doing this, Health Canada cannot ignore it, they will have to respond within 45 days,” Cathcart said.
“Basically, we want Health Canada to put regulations in place. It’s an oversight, but for some reason, nobody wants to touch it and it makes the residents angry and it makes me angry.”
Morrison says the Cannabis Act is up for review this year. He believes he will be able to read the petition in Parliament in time for its consideration.
Morrison says technology is available to mitigate odours emanating from outdoor cannabis grows and it is up to Health Canada to recognize there is an issue.
Morrison applauds the review and says that as regulations around indoor facilities are so restrictive, he is hopeful outdoor regulations will be included for consideration.