More than 7,600 pot plants were removed from a warehouse in Admaston/Bromley (A/B) hours before the same township was hosting a public meeting in relation to regulating cannabis production at the local level.
That was the scene on Thursday, May 5 when members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) from the Renfrew Street crime unit, organized crime enforcement unit, provincial asset forfeiture unit, provincial joint forces cannabis enforcement team, contraband tobacco enforcement team and the emergency response team assisted by Renfrew OPP officers executed a search warrant at 1197 Highway 132 in the A/B Township. Three people were arrested at that location.
Up until 2022, the warehouse was owned by Tracey's Dairy and before that it was a Pepsi-Cola plant.
Led by members of the Renfrew OPP detachment’s community street crime unit, the OPP officers, supported by over 10 vehicles, raided the warehouse where they were greeted with the site of row after row of marijuana plants, many of them ready to be processed for production. However, the production line was shut down following the removal of the plants.
The OPP utilized township vehicles to transport the plants to an undisclosed and secure location for processing
It is not known at this point if the raid came about as a result of a report based on a recent fire inspection carried out by the Douglas Fire Department. The report cited potential violations inside the building and two adjoining residential units.
Although the site is zoned as industrial and the inspection report would have included that two residential units were attached to the main building. A resident confirmed that at least one of the men taken into custody resided in one of the units and was employed as a caretaker for the site.
Wei Lin, age 39 of Scarborough, Xing Xiao, age 60 of Scarborough, and Junjie XUE, age 59 of Scarborough have all been charged with the following offences:
- Possession property obtained by crime over $5000
- Cultivate, propagate or harvest more than four plants at one time in dwelling-house
- Cultivate, propagate or harvest any cannabis plant at a place that is not their dwelling-house
Each of the accused persons were released on an undertaking to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Renfrew on July 6, 2022.
Township Wants Stricter Control on Pot Production
When about 25 residents gathered inside the township’s council chambers, the topic of the grow-op raid just six hours earlier certainly injected a little energy into the meeting. It was a public meeting with the intent to explain why council adjusted a template introduced by County of Renfrew staff on how to zone and prepare for cannabis production in Ontario.
The May 5 meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and A/B Mayor Michael Donohue and his fellow council members, (Mayor Donohue was video streaming from his township office as he was self-isolating following his positive test for the COVID-19 virus) immediately informed all those in attendance the focus of the meeting was to amend the current zoning by-law and incorporate sections of a by-law template that reflects the needs of township residents moving forward. They were not there to rehash the reasons how the grow-op remained unchecked for almost two years.
Many residents, including township staff and elected officials, were aware of the grow-op soon after a numbered company purchased the warehouse in the summer of 2020. It was purchased less than a week after it was listed for a selling price of in excess of $320,000. Within six months any remaining tenants residing in the units on the back of the building had been evicted, leaving the building vacant.
Beginning in February of 2021, it was noted by a resident that several vehicles, most of them small non-descriptive-commercial vans and pickup trucks, and none of them bearing any company names such as electrical, plumbing or carpentry businesses, became more frequent at the site and workers began modifying the building including removal of interior walls and boarding up of windows on the exterior of the site.
“It was horrible and it seemed like it never stopped, day or night,” one resident said prior to the public meeting. “I mean living out in the country you know there are going to be times when manure is spread and you almost have to hold your breath for a couple of days, then it is gone. Imagine living with that smell every day of the year and you get an idea what I am talking about."
The building had no markings or signs on the complex while production continued inside throughout the latter part of the year into 2022. With that operation came a distinctive smell.
“I think plenty of us complained and it got to the point the council had to do something," the resident continued. "People talk and I think they got tired of more and more people asking what was going on over there and are they legal?”
The template was created by a County of Renfrew staff report based upon extensive research into current and future trends of the Ontario Planning Act and zoning in relation to production of cannabis in the Ottawa Valley and how to enforce any infractions of the by-law.
A few residents came to the podium and made some general statements, and no references were made to the raid or the operation. Among the topics raised was a request by A/B resident Jim Miller to increase the distance of a future grow-op from the next building or roadway and he said a much greater setback for future operations to try and reduce the impact of the smell.
Deputy-Mayor Michael Quilty followed up on Miller's request stating a barn, with no cattle or other animals, must be 450 feet back while a new grow-op can be within 100 feet of another structure or roadway.
“This entire fiasco and forcing the municipalities to take on the costs of enforcement and whatever else is needed can be blamed on one man alone,” he said. “Justin Trudeau wanted to get his marijuana legal and now we are all paying the costs of it.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Donohue informed residents of the process to challenge the new bylaw if approved by council and how an appeal can be launched if for some reason they take issue with it.