In the last two years, the OPP Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET) has tackled illegal cannabis production, sale and distribution enterprises across Ontario, closing 78 illegal storefronts and seizing over $178 million in drugs.
Communities across the province face threats from violence associated with illegal crime activities, from human trafficking, to impacts on the environment, including the quality of life when surrounded by large-scale illegal cannabis facilities.
These sophisticated operations exploit Health Canada registrations to produce, or designate someone to produce, cannabis for medical purposes by diverting the product authorized to be grown for medical purposes to the illegal market.
The PJFCET is responsible for enforcing the cannabis laws and investigating criminal enterprises that exploit or abuse the legal cannabis market. The team consists of members from: OPP, Kingston, Hamilton, Barrie, Waterloo Regional, Sarnia, Windsor, London, and Niagara Regional Police Services.
Investigators have executed 152 warrants across Ontario, seized over 180,000 cannabis plants, thousands of pounds of dried cannabis, edibles and concentrates and other illicit drugs, $3.2 million Canadian currency and over $1.8 million in proceeds from crime such as property, vehicles and firearms, laying 1,176 federal Cannabis Act and Criminal Code charges.
The PJFCET partners with OPP Regional Community Street Crime Units, along with members of the OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, Emergency Response Team and Tactics and Rescue Unit, Ontario Fire Marshal, Ministry of Environment, Canada Border Services Agency and local municipalities to safeguard and protect communities from the dangers inherent with the illegal cannabis industry.
Cutting off the illegal supply is not only related to enforcement and arrests. The OPP continues to work with online platform operators to remove illegal cannabis sites that are selling unsafe and unregulated cannabis products.
“The PJFCET’s initial focus was on storefronts and then shifted to the online space,” explains Detective Inspector Jim Walker, OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team.
“Now, we are targeting the illegal cannabis sites where we see the magnitude of the scope of these illegal operations. They are not small operations growing for personal use. They are lucrative criminal networks funding other criminality. This is organized crime at its highest level.”
The only way to purchase legal cannabis in Ontario is through the online Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) or in-person at an Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO)-authorized private retailer. Purchasing legal cannabis is the only way to ensure the cannabis has met the health and safety standards set out by the Government of Canada and Ontario.
Illegal cannabis often does not match what is being advertised; recent testing of illegal cannabis products indicated lower than advertised THC levels and the use of banned pesticides.
The purchase of cannabis from anywhere other than the online OCS or an authorized private retailer could lead to a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.