Castlegar marijuana controversy garners national attention

A local battle over the bounds of legal marijuana production has grabbed national attention after police raided a grow op near Castlegar and arrested a 62-year-old woman, despite the fact that she had a valid licence to grow a certain number of the plants.

  • Apr. 1, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Illustrative photo of a legal grow op.

A local battle over the bounds of legal marijuana production has grabbed national attention after police raided a grow op near Castlegar and arrested a 62-year-old woman, despite the fact that she had a valid licence to grow a certain number of the plants.

According to police, the number of marijuana plants found at Velma Mullaney’s residence in Pass Creek exceeded what was allowed under the licences issued by Health Canada to her and her boyfriend.

Together, the pair are legally allowed to grow 98 plants, but RCMP Sgt. Laurel Mathew said police had evidence there were more plants than that in production, based at least partly on high levels of power consumption at the residence.

After obtaining a warrant, police searched the large rural property on Feb. 24.

Mathew said three separate officers each counted more than 98 plants, but she wouldn’t say exactly how many plants were counted.

Mullaney’s lawyer, Don Skogstad, said his client claims police later told her they had counted 99 plants.

As a result, Skogstad told the Castlegar News he doesn’t expect the Crown to pursue charges.

“A one-per-cent error?” he said. “Nobody’s going to charge her for that.”

Mullaney went to great lengths to stay within the limits of the law, Skogstad added, and was confident that she and her boyfriend had only 98 plants in production.

“She was absolutely positive,” he said. “When you do this type of thing, you try to be careful.”

No formal charges have yet been filed against Mullaney in relation to the February raid, in which her 18-year-old grandson and a person under the age of 18 were also arrested.

Mathew said the grandson “was found in the grow, tending to the grow” when police searched the property.

Mullaney’s boyfriend wasn’t present at the time of the raid but was arrested later, Mathew added.

She said the Castlegar RCMP expect to pass their files on to Crown prosecutors either Friday or early next week, and any decision regarding charges will proceed from there.

Mullaney is already facing drug charges from an arrest two years ago.

In January 2009 she and her husband (from whom she is now separated) were arrested after police raided their property and seized 1,200 marijuana plants as well as harvested marijuana and cash.

Mullaney is facing chrages of cultivation of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking in relation to that raid. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 6 in Castlegar court.

Mullaney obtained her medicinal marijuana licence in October 2009.

The February raid made headlines across Canada this week, with stories carried by national broadcasters and newspapers.

Mullaney told the Globe and Mail she uses marijuana to deal with the symptoms of her arthritis and her boyfriend uses it to control pain caused by a bad back.

Skogstad told the Castlegar News that Mullaney and her boyfriend have medicinal marijuana licences allowing them to grow 49 plants each, which is based on an estimated prescription of 10 grams of daily use.

He said 49 plants per licence may seem like a lot, but noted that medicinal marijuana users often have less sophisticated equipment than illegal grow ops and usually don’t get the same kind of yield.

Due to disease and inconsistent quality, Skogstad said even good medicinal marijuana growers “are lucky to get one ounce per plant.”

While he is only representing Mullaney on her current and any pending criminal charges, Skogstad said his client is also considering filing a civil suit against police for the damage she says police caused to her growing equipment.

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