Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crooks invade medical pot program: report

Supplying drug to illicit market

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OTTAWA -- The RCMP say 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 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 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 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 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.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 A10

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