Police say large cannabis bust connected to organized crime abusing designated medical grow program

Investigators with the York Regional Police Organized Crime Bureau – Guns, Gangs and Drug Enforcement Unit have seized approximately $150 million dollars worth of illegal cannabis and laid dozens of charges as a result of an operation they have dubbed Project Green Sweep.

Project Green Sweep took place during the summer months of 2020, as part of the York Regional Police Cannabis Enforcement Strategy. Officers executed 15 search warrants at various indoor and outdoor cannabis grow operations throughout York Region, including Markham, King, Stouffville and East Gwillimbury, resulting in 37 arrests and 67 charges.

Investigators believe that organized crime continues to exploit Canada’s medical cannabis production program, formerly called the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR).

The regulation allows some designated growers to grow hundreds of plants and store hundreds of pounds of harvested cannabis for personal use. Licensed growers can pool up to four grow licenses per address and turn a single production site into a cannabis farm. York Regional Police is alleging all the cannabis grown and harvested at the identified locations was destined to be sold in the criminal market.

Police say that organized crime networks have comfortably embedded themselves in this business, capitalizing and exploiting the loopholes in the current legislation. Proceeds derived from the illicit cannabis trade often fund other facets of these crime groups, including the distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine and firearms.

Several other recent large scale raids have also had connected to organized crime utilizing aspects of Canada’s medical cannabis production program. Earlier this month, RCMP in BC say they interrupted a distribution network growing under a medical cannabis allowance. Police seized over 1,180 kilograms of dried cannabis and over 5,300 cannabis plants. The facility’s medical licence permitted less than 300 plants. 

In Ontario, OPP have raided dozens of farms and seized millions of dollars worth of cannabis from sophisticated grows, many of which were also operating under the guise of personal or designated grow licenses.

As part of Project Green Sweep, officers seized 28,964 plants and 3,990 pounds of harvested cannabis, with a total street value of approximately $150 million dollars. Also seized were seven firearms, two crossbows and a conducted energy weapon. At one location in Schomberg, several exotic animals, including three kangaroos and two zebras, were located. Animal control was notified and is investigating.

“The illegal production of illicit cannabis is a growing problem in York Region and our citizens regularly call to report these large-scale indoor and outdoor grow operations,” said Chief of Police Jim MacSween. “Organized crime continues to exploit an outdated Health Canada medical licensing system, which is generating tremendous profit that we know is resulting in violence and funding other criminal activity in our community.”  

The investigation is ongoing.

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