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‘Huge demand’: OPP raids show illegally grown cannabis thriving


December 4, 2020
By Rick Vanderlinde, Barrie Advance (Local Journalism Initiative)

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Cannabis has been legal in Canada for two years, but several police raids on illegal grow-ops show the illicit market continues to thrive.

The OPP said it seized more than 122,000 illegally grown plants, valued at about $143 million on the street, following 52 raids across the province since July 1.

“There is still a huge demand for illegal cannabis here in Ontario and in Canada,” Det.-Inspt. Jim Walker told Simcoe.com. “A great deal of the illegal cannabis we are seeing is being exported into the United States and it’s coming back in the form of U.S. currency, but also in harder drugs like cocaine, meth, fentanyl and in some cases firearms.”

The province-wide investigations ended with 195 arrests, the seizure of 36 firearms, $76,000 in cash and $514,000 in property obtained by crime.

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Twenty-five of the 52 search warrants were conducted in central region, which includes Simcoe County, where more than 7,000 illegal plants were discovered in a Midland industrial building last month.

Walker said illegal grow-ops are being operated by “opportunistic” individuals who are using loopholes in Health Canada’s medical cannabis licences and diverting cannabis to the illicit market.

Suspects allegedly “stack” personal and designated cannabis grow applications onto one address, Walker said.

“So you are getting cannabis grown in these large-scale illegal cannabis production sites with no intention of it every going to a medical patient,” he said.

Walker said those who purchase cannabis illegally should know they are supporting criminal groups involved in human trafficking, weapons offences and dealing hard drugs.

“When you are buying it from the black market, those funds are going to the pocket of criminals.”

The illegal grow-ops are also impacting the quality of life of residents who live near a large facility.

“Municipalities are getting complaints about them not abiding by the bylaws and even building codes,” Walker said.

Earlier this month, New Tecumseth town council placed a hold on new applications related to the production and cultivation of cannabis until a study has been completed.

A grow operation popped up near Tottenham earlier this year without town approval, creating noxious odours for nearby residents.