'No Christmas,' thanks to social workers

Police says medical marijuana grow-op legal but social workers insist it is a violation

Mike Youds / Kamloops Daily News
December 17, 2012 01:00 AM

Brad Olson and Angela Ferguson wait outside the Kamloops Law Courts Monday with son Carter, eight months, as they and their lawyer speak to the media about problems with social workers who don't understand Brad's use of medical marijuana and have concerns for their children.

A Kamloops family threatened with apprehension of their kids over a licensed medical marijuana grow says the Ministry of Child and Family Development destroyed their Christmas.

Angela Ferguson said outside the Kamloops Law Courts on Monday that she was at home with two of her three children on Nov. 28 when RCMP and ministry social workers came knocking. They told her they'd been tipped off about an illegal grow-op.

Ferguson believes it was a bogus tip.

"I immediately showed them the paperwork," she said.

Ferguson's husband, Brad Olson, is licensed by Health Canada to grow a small quantity of medical marijuana for his own consumption. He takes leaf-extract tincture to cope with the pain of degenerative discs caused by a spinal cord injury.

Police confirmed that the 34 plants he was cultivating are legitimate. The officers were polite and respectful, said lawyer Shawn Buckley. The social workers, however, refused to leave.

"The social worker immediately took the opposite position," Ferguson said. "She said, 'This is absolutely criminal.' She said, 'You're in violation.' When I called her on (the comment), she became very aggressive."

The worker went so far as to claim that Ferguson's eight-month-old baby looked high, as his eyes were red, she observed.

"She said, 'We're going to apprehend your children immediately.'"

In addition, the workers erroneously argued that the licensed grow-op required City permits. No such bylaw exists, though City council is considering the issue.

Buckley said the case has revealed a gap in ministry regulations - there is no policy or provision for families who are medically licensed to grow marijuana. In the absence of a policy, families are liable to be torn apart, he said.

"We think there needs to be a humane policy in place," he said. "There's a lot of emotional pain and hardship when you disrupt a family."

The family is filing a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. Buckley cited Section 7 of Canada's Charter, of Rights and Freedoms which states that "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Ferguson stood her ground and was able to buy time with a compromise. The social workers ordered the family leave their home immediately and have it inspected for air quality, ventilation and electrical safety. They also demanded to see Olson's medical records.

"This is the ministry trying to destroy my family. What has this to with the electrical and air quality in the home?"

They family had the inspections done. Everything was up to code and the indoor air quality was three times better than what was measured outdoors.

The bill came to $4,600, more than they could afford. Olson only recently returned to work after recovering from a major injury last year and Ferguson's maternity benefits barely cover their living costs.

"There is no Christmas," Ferguson said.

Olson worked as a contractor, so the entire marijuana growing system was built to a high standard, including charcoal filters, she said. All of the issues raised by the ministry seemed to be phony, the couple concluded.

"I feel very safe in my home," said Ferguson, who noted that she does not smoke or drink since she's breastfeeding.

Olson doesn't smoke, either. He "juices" the leaves, adding a tincture to teas and fruit juices to manage his pain.

Though prevented by law from commenting on specific cases it investigates, the ministry did attempt to explain its policy. The policy doesn't make a distinction between legal and illegal growing.

Stephanie Cadieux, minister of child and family development, commented via email: "Regardless of whether a grow-op is for medical marijuana or illegal, our primary concern is the safety of the children in the home, and our laws ensure that social workers are equipped to deal with any situation that they are faced with."

She said that grow-ops can pose health and safety hazards to children. Social workers are relied upon to assess child safety and, "where necessary, develop the least disruptive plan that will effectively ensure the safety and well-being of the child."

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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