Cannabis producer pleads guilty to violating bylaw

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Representatives of a designated cannabis grow operation east of Simcoe will appear in Provincial Offences Court for sentencing in April after the company pleaded guilty to violating Norfolk County’s odour-control setback bylaw.

The numbered company 1970488 Ontario Inc. was charged in 2018 with operating a cannabis production facility at 681 Townsend Concession Road 14 within 300 metres of a home without odour-mitigating technology.

A representative of the numbered company entered the guilty plea Jan. 31 before Justice-of-the-Peace E. Walker in the POA courtroom in Simcoe.

In finding the defendant guilty, JP Walker issued an order prohibiting further production of marijuana at the 2.1-acre greenhouse complex. At the April sentencing, the court is expected to collect information that will help set the fine.

The facility at issue has been in the news on several occasions in recent years.

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In May 2019, owner Sean Zheng unsuccessfully petitioned Norfolk council for relief from the setback requirement. The greenhouse operation is surrounded by homes on three sides. The nearest home is 11.9 metres (39 feet) away.

The vote against relief was unanimous. Council’s decision has been appealed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the successor panel to the former Ontario Municipal Board. The appeal will be heard later this year.

Norfolk OPP made a rare appearance in the planning report and recommended the refusal of Zheng’s application.

An OPP staff sergeant said the facility was the subject of a drug raid three years ago that resulted in 21 criminal charges against seven individuals from the Greater Toronto Area.

Police also pointed out that residents of the area frequently contacted them to complain about a skunk-like odour arising from the facility.

Last summer – as a crop of marijuana in the greenhouse was maturing – police were called to the property again. This time it was to investigate a robbery complaint, with assault, involving plants that were nearly ready for harvest.

Under Canadian law, holders of prescriptions for medical cannabis can delegate production to a third-party grower.

Designated growers are allowed to fulfill the production needs of up to four individuals. Zheng came to council because he wanted assurances he could produce 1,300 plants at a time without running afoul of Norfolk’s bylaw division.

In last year’s planning report, Norfolk OPP noted that Zheng lists Townsend Road 14 as his address but has a Toronto number on his cell phone.

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