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Cannabis and Crime in Ontario

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) says illegal cannabis production sites have elements of human trafficking and forced labour, in a new report on the impact of cannabis on crime in the province.

The report looks at the impact of cannabis legalization five years later on frontline police officers and organized crime and what’s next for regulatory changes.

Frontline Impacts of Cannabis Legislation

Since legalization, there has been a relatively low number of charges for possession of illegal cannabis – 315 over five years. However, there has been a high number of provincial offence charges for individuals with cannabis readily accessible in a motor vehicle or boat (9,257). This number has been steadily decreasing over the years and the OPP suggests that can be attributed to a greater awareness for what is and isn’t allowed under the current cannabis legislation.

The OPP has focused on education over enforcement and increasing public awareness surrounding the Cannabis Act.

Cannabis and Organized Crime

The OPP has seen a number of large-scale illegal cannabis production sites. They often find unsafe working conditions, including air that is contaminated with mold and pesticides while production workers sometimes live inside these facilities.

“Cannabis production sites often have an element of human trafficking,” says Frank Bates, OPP Acting Detective Staff Sergeant and manager of the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET). “People working inside may not know that it is an unlicensed facility. We have even found several instances of forced labour.”

By the end of 2022, over $4.2 billion of legal cannabis had been sold in Ontario. The Canadian Medical Association Journal estimates that one third of cannabis users continue to purchase cannabis from the illicit market but it is difficult to measure the true value of illicit cannabis products being sold each year.

The OPP says legalization has not removed organized crime groups, gangs, and criminal involvement from the production, distribution, and sale of illicit cannabis. Profits from these criminal endeavours are often laundered to finance other criminal activities including illegal drugs, firearms, and human trafficking.

$430 Million Illicit Cannabis Seized

The PJFCET has seized $430 million worth of illicit cannabis products over the last five years and millions of dollars worth of other illicit drugs, firearms, and prohibited weapons.

Since its inception in 2018, the PJFCET has focused its mandate on shutting down illegal cannabis storefronts. Their enforcement will expand to include the online space.

Pesticides in Cannabis

A recent study completed by the National Research Council of Canada on behalf of the OPP and the Ontario Cannabis Store revealed that illicit cannabis contained high levels of pesticides and did not contain the advertised levels of THC as indicated on the packaging.

“Alarmingly, 86% of the illegal samples tested contained multiple pesticides, some of which were several hundred times above the established Health Canada limit,” explains Deputy Director Rachel Huggins, OPP’s Executive Lead of Cannabis Legalization.

The policing community has an important role to play in ensuring that Ontarians who choose to consume cannabis can access safe and regulated products.

What’s Next

The final report of the Minister of Health and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions’ Legislative Review is expected to be released in March 2024. It will include suggestions for reform that go beyond the regulations, encompassing related laws, policies, and programs across all levels of government.

Meanwhile, the PJFCET continues to take a leading role in cannabis enforcement across Ontario, by working in collaboration with its Joint Forces Operation partners.

Tags: cannabis regulation (10), Cannabis Retail (394), illicit market (21), legal cannabis market (4), Ontario cannabis industry (12), Ontario Cannabis Store (76), Ontario Provincial Police (2)