Adult-use cannabis has been legal in Canada for two years now, but even so, the country's black market for weed is still going strong. One year after weed became legal, as much as 80 percent of all Canadian weed buyers were still buying black market pot. This year, that figure has dropped closer to 40 percent, but illegal grow-operations all across the country are continuing to harvest unregulated crops for the illicit market.
In Ontario alone, police have busted dozens of illegal grow-ops and seized over 100,000 illegally-grown pot plants since the beginning of July. Over the course of this summer, several divisions of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) busted 52 different illegal cannabis farms. The majority of these enterprises were serious, large-scale operations rivaling the sophistication of legal production facilities. For reference, one of these sites grew 7,000 plants.
In all, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) seized over 122,000 black market pot plants, valued at C$143 million. Cops also seized 36 firearms, $76,337 in cash, and over $514,000 in criminal proceeds during the raids. The OPP arrested 195 individuals during these raids, who will be charged with 327 federal Cannabis Act and other criminal charges.
Police believe that the sophistication of these operations is being driven by organized crime groups that are becoming increasingly involved in the black market. “Organized crime is firmly entrenched in the production, distribution, and sale of illegal cannabis,” said OPP Detective Inspector Jim Walker, a member of the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team, to Blackburn News.
“From concerns regarding public safety and environmental contamination to human trafficking, the impacts that these large-scale cannabis production sites have on our communities can not be understated,” Walker continued.
“The OPP’s report confirms what we speculated back in April,” said David Clement, the North American Affairs Manager for Consumer Choice Centre, to Blackburn News. “That organized crime has weaseled its way into the permit process... Health Canada should review the permit process to ensure that criminal networks aren’t using it to fuel their nefarious activities.”
Detective Walker told Global News that the OPP has seen “individuals coming in (and) buying up rich agricultural properties, properties with existing greenhouses, that make it easy for them to then turn them into these illegal cannabis production sites.” Walker added that most of this illegal weed is being smuggled into the US, where the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis keeps the demand for black market pot high.
In a statement, the OPP warned Ontario residents that cannabis can only legally be purchased at the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store or at a private retailer licensed by the local Alcohol and Gaming Commission. Any Ontarian that is caught buying black market weed can be fined up to $100,000 and sent to prison for up to a year.