Dried and packaged cannabis at an undisclosed location. OPP PHOTO
A large-scale illegal cannabis production and distribution network has been shut down by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and partners after a 12-month investigation. Several residents of the Niagara Region and GTA are facing numerous charges, according to an OPP statement released Friday, August 21.
“A criminal enterprise exploiting the Health Canada medical, personal and designate cannabis production regime was uncovered by the Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS),” read the statement.
“The operation to divert cannabis authorized to be grown for medical purposes to the illegal market has been dismantled.”
“Project Woolrich” was initiated a year ago, in August 2019, after separate investigations presented evidence of criminality, according to the OPP. Several agencies were involved in the effort, including the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET), OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau (OCEB), the Provincial Asset Forfeiture Unit (PAFU), Niagara Regional Police, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) and HSI Toronto, FINTRAC, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The targets identified by the investigation were allegedly involved in the production, wholesale distribution and sale of illegal cannabis. The OPP says that investigators seized shipments of illegal cannabis destined for the US as well as two large shipments of US currency destined for Canada. The accused were also allegedly responsible for large-volume shipments of illegal cannabis from British Columbia to Ontario.
While the OPP says that the accused are not members of known organized crime groups, “they are certainly a criminal enterprise with a large-scale, sophisticated operation.”
The OPP says that the enterprise exploited Health Canada registrations intended to produce cannabis for medical purposes to instead use them for illegal purposes.
The OPP’s role is to enforce and investigate criminal cannabis incidents and focus on the apprehension of those who produce, sell, distribute, import/export and use cannabis outside of the parameters of both the provincial and federal legislation.
Last Thursday, August 13, investigators from several agencies executed 26 warrants in various Ontario locations including Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Jordan, Simcoe, Markham, Canfield, Welland, Leamington, Scarborough, and Richmond Hill, as well as in British Columbia. As a result, investigators have arrested eight individuals for numerous charges including distribution, production and sale of cannabis under the Cannabis Act, as well as charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. The OPP say that the investigation is ongoing and a “complete list with names and associated charges will be released in the coming days.”
The accused have been released, and will appear in a St. Catharines courtroom on September 17.
The investigation included the seizure/restraint of:
101,049 illegal cannabis plants;
1,921 pounds of illegal cannabis bud;
21 pounds of illegal cannabis shatter;
Two (2) ounces of cocaine;
Three (3) pounds of illegal cannabis hash;
22 pounds of illegal cannabis oil;
Hundreds of illegal cannabis vape pens;
Six (6) firearms including two .22 pistols, one 9mm Glock, one AR 15 assault rifle and two shotguns;
Grow equipment worth more than $1 million;
Numerous high-end jewellery items;
More than $2.5 million in Canadian currency;
$580,828 in US currency; and
$379,383 in Chinese and South Korean currency.
The total duty loss for the illegal cannabis seized is estimated at more than $42 million dollars.
This article originally appeared in The Voice.