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Criminal networks exploiting Canada's medical marijuana program: RCMP

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OTTAWA - The RCMP says organized criminal networks are taking advantage of Canada's medical marijuana program to produce the drug and supply it to the illicit market.

A newly released intelligence report by the national police force warns that criminals are using family members and associates with clean police records to get around program safeguards.

"Gaining access to or control of a medical marijuana grow operation is highly desirable for criminal networks due to the array of opportunities it would present for the illicit production and diversion of high-grade medical marijuana," says the report, which was completed in May 2012.

It also notes that screening an applicant through a criminal record check is insufficient to keep undesirable elements from infiltrating the program.

A heavily censored copy of the report was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The findings follow numerous warnings and reports of illegal activity linked to Health Canada's Marijuana Medical Access Regulations initiative.

The department has announced a complete reworking of the medical marijuana system — in part due to concerns about the risk of criminal exploitation.

Under the existing program, to be phased out by April 1, 2014, individuals are issued licences to grow marijuana for their personal use to help ease the symptoms of their medical conditions.

More than 30,000 people across the country are authorized to use the drug for medical purposes.

The Mounties have long advised that the illegal marijuana trade is a multibillion-dollar industry in Canada.

The RCMP report cites case studies that reveal criminal tactics for abusing the federal program, including:

— Producing marijuana in excess of the quantity allowed under a Health Canada permit — in one instance almost 80 kilograms annually, with a street value of more than $650,000;

— Circumventing federal safeguards by having a family member without a criminal conviction, such as a spouse, obtain a licence;

— Efforts by organized criminal groups to gain access to a licence through a complex web of associates.

"Criminal groups are currently exploiting Health Canada's MMAR program," says the report, adding "at least one high-level criminal organization — identified as a national level threat — is proactively seeking opportunities to exploit future MMAR guidelines currently being developed by Health Canada."

In 2010, the RCMP said a review concluded that 70 licence holders were violating the terms of their agreements. In 40 of the cases, holders were trafficking marijuana.

Last month, CBC-TV aired an interview with a man from Nelson, B.C., identified only as Jack, who said he made about $120,000 a year selling the marijuana he cultivated using his medical licence.

Under Health Canada's new medical marijuana program, individuals will no longer apply for licences to grow plants at home. Instead, licensed producers will cultivate marijuana for distribution to individuals whose health-care providers agree it is an appropriate treatment.

The government says the licensed producers will be subject to extensive security and quality-control requirements.

Those include security clearances for key personnel, alarm systems at growing facilities to detect intruders, and compliance and enforcement measures, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in an opinion piece published Wednesday by the Globe and Mail newspaper.

In addition, dried marijuana will be shipped through a secure delivery service directly to the address the client specifies, Aglukkaq said.

"Taken together, these measures will reduce the risks of diversion of marijuana to illicit markets."

The RCMP had no comment Wednesday when asked about possible concerns regarding the new program.

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