3 years after legalization, police say cannabis crime persists in Ontario

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There may be dozens of licensed cannabis stores in the Waterloo region, but police say that doesn’t mean the illegal cannabis market is gone.

In fact, Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin recently told the Police Services Board that the legalization of cannabis has had “unintended consequences” so the service now has an entire team. dedicated to the investigation of illegal online cannabis sales.

“Several of our homicides in our area are directly linked to the illegal sale of marijuana,” Larkin said during the presentation of the 2022 police budget proposal.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo requested an interview with the police service regarding the illegal cannabis market and its links to violence, but no one was available and asked the OPP questions. .

Retail of the Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Jim Walker said he was not surprised to learn that the illegal cannabis trade persisted in the region – or was linked to violence – because, he says, the fact is that illegal pot is paying off. always money.

Retail Insp. Jim Walker says criminals buy tracts of farmland and turn it into sites for illegal cannabis production. (c 2017 / Ontario Provincial Police)

“Not only is it lucrative… It’s considered a lower risk because cannabis is legal now,” said Walker, who is in charge of the Joint Forces Provincial Cannabis Enforcement Team, which includes the service. Waterloo Regional Police Department.

“Like any other illegal commodity that generates significant income, there is an associated violence that comes with it.”

The type of violence can range from theft of street vendors for their supplies to conflicts involving thefts from large-scale illegal cannabis production sites and producers who have armed themselves.

“You will see it at any level, just like any other drug trade,” Walker said.

Farms turned into illegal production sites

These days, Walker’s team is focused on cracking down on these large-scale production sites. Criminals buy large swathes of farmland – sometimes with greenhouses already in place – and use it to grow thousands of plants at a time, he said.

In January of this year, Provincial Police said their joint Cannabis Enforcement Team seized 180,000 cannabis plants, C $ 3.2 million and more than $ 1.8 million in proceeds of crime such as goods, vehicles and firearms in two years of operation. (Ontario Provincial Police)

Walker said that some people are operate Health Canada’s authorization system to make their operations appear legitimate. In some cases, he said, they go way beyond what they’re allowed to do or stack multiple licenses on top of each other.

“They have this appearance of being quasi-legal to them, but they blatantly invade [and] they’re usually linked to other criminal elements, ”Walker said.

Beyond his ties to organized crime, Walker said the cannabis grown at these sites is often high in pesticides and cultivated by migrant workers for the benefit of those running the operation.

Walker believes Health Canada must overhaul its registration system so that criminals cannot take advantage of it.

In response to questions from CBC KW, Health Canada said it is committed to protecting patients’ rights to reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes and that most people who use this program do so for legitimate reasons. .

“As with any regulatory framework, there will be instances where individuals choose to operate outside the law,” a spokesperson said in an email.

The spokesperson pointed out that it is illegal for anyone registered to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes to sell or distribute it to someone else.

To fend off those who attempt to exploit the system, Health Canada has said it operates a 24/7 service that law enforcement can use to confirm whether someone is allowed to cultivate. cannabis for medical purposes.

In September of this year, Health Canada said it refused to issue a registration 329 times and revoked 110 registrations.

834 stores in 160 communities across Ontario

Yet more than half of the people in the province obtain their pot through illegal means.

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) April-June 2021 Quarterly Review Report showed that legal retailers accounted for 47% of the recreational cannabis market in Ontario, up from 44% in the last quarter of 2020.

“The efforts of Ontario’s cannabis industry to continue to make progress despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic present a compelling case for significant optimism for the future,” the report said.

He noted that at the end of the first quarter of this year, there were 834 retail stores operating in 160 communities across the province.

“Built on the largest selection and number of stores in the country, it is clear that the province is starting to live up to its potential as Canada’s largest and most dynamic cannabis market,” says The report.

Walker said people who consume weed should purchase their cannabis from a legal retailer.


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