RCMP seize cannabis after off-duty cop views plants on garden tour

Search warrant issued and three cannabis plants were taken from the home owner

cannabis growing - rk
A small cannabis plant is growing but has yet to bud | Rob Kruyt

The Revelstoke RCMP searched a resident’s home and seized three cannabis plants after an off-duty officer spotted the plants during a garden tour.

The police say the seizure was intended to “support charges,” although it appears that charges have yet to be laid.

B.C.’s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act allows residents to grow four plants at a home but bans residents from growing cannabis in a way that can be seen by the general public. Penalties range up to three months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The RCMP’s actions are a surprise given that Business in Vancouver last year asked B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth if home owners should be concerned about jail time if a neighbour could see their four legal plants growing in a garden, and he chuckled. He said there was no need for hysteria.

He said last summer that enforcement around the public display of cannabis plants would be complaint driven and that police would start with warnings and then, if complaints persisted and the situation worsened, there would be fines.

Farnworth is in charge of policing in B.C. but, as this incident shows, he does not get involved in operational decisions. Instead he sets policies and regulations, and is involved with his government peers in changing laws related to how police do their jobs. 

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesman Jason Robillard told BIV that his force's priority is to investigate hard drugs, such as opioids, and to protect public safety. He added that the VPD has limited resources. Robillard would not, however, outright reject the possibility that someone whose cannabis plants are visible to the public could have a search warrant served and their home raided. He said those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. 

The Revelstoke RCMP in an August 6 release said that an off-duty officer bought tickets for, and on July 28 attended Revelstoke's seventh annual Garden & Art Tour with “a family member.” The officer could see that cannabis was being grown “in full view of the public.”

The RCMP said that people on the garden tour were exposed to “blatant violations” of B.C. law.

“As a result of observations made during the public tour, a search warrant was executed on a residence on August 2, 2019,” the RCMP said.

While the release hinted that charges were possible, it said “the file remains under investigation.”

The independent publication Revelstoke Mountaineer broke this story and said that it called the RCMP yesterday (August 5) but did not get a response.

BIV also left a phone message with the Revelstoke RCMP but did not get a return phone call.

Vancouver cannabis activist Dana Larsen told BIV after the story broke that he would like to see charges laid in this case so the law can be challenged. He has visible cannabis plants on his East Vancouver balcony but he doubts that the VPD will come to arrest him because he believes they know that there are more pressing crimes to be investigating.

That in itself, is an injustice with this law, he said: "the law will be enforced differently in different parts of the province."

Larsen ran to be the leader of the B.C. NDP in the 2011 leadership race and he remains active in the party. He hinted that he may bring a resolution to change this law at the next NDP convention.

"This ridiculous raid over three plants in a garden is because the B.C. NDP put such over-restrictive and punitive measures into their cannabis laws," he said. "This is a government that says we should destigmatize drug users, but then they stigmatize cannabis so much that you [can] go to jail just for letting someone see your legal cannabis plant. Mike Farnworth and the B.C. NDP need to fix the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act."