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OPP face challenges investigating cannabis growing operations

Ontario Provincial Police are getting lots of complaints, but sometimes their hands are tied when it comes investigating cannabis growing operations.

OPP Detective Sergeant Don MacAlister spoke to council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday. MacAlister is in charge of the community street crime unit for Lennox and Addington, Frontenac and Prince Edward County.

“With the implementation of the Health Canada licences, it has provided us with some unique challenges with regards to enforcement – nothwithstanding the Cannabis Act which was enacted a couple of years ago.”

He noted a lot of the growing operations officers see on a regular basis are licenced under Health Canada.

He noted officers can draw some peripheral linkages to organized crime members behind some of the operations. However, there are challenges related to enforcement.

Officers must have a reason to believe criminal activity is under way before they are able to investigate.

“That’s something that we’ve struggled with in the past with investigating some of these grows in the fact that we can’t just basically profile on the fact that they exist, and start looking into them without the viable criminal start.”

Partnerships have evolved with regard to bylaw enforcement, building inspectors and electrical authorities who are entering the properties in their capacity to enforce rules under their specific authorities, “but when they’re in there they might see things that are concerning, or things that might give a starting point that things aren’t operating with Health Canada regulations.

“A good dialogue with the police and municipal employees allows us to work together. Bylaws help regulate some of these issues locally to give leverage to take on issues we don’t have the ability to enforce.”

He said people with concerns should call Prince Edward OPP. With any complaint received, officers first check with Health Canada to ensure licences and certificates to grow marijuana have been issued.

If officers cannot move forward with an investigation they will advise callers with another course of action, such as reaching out to the municipality, especially if the call is related to a bylaw issue such as sound, or odours.

The OPP is currently aware of about 14 Health Canada operations in the County. Five search warrants were executed last September with 23 arrests and 40 charges. Drugs, money, plants, cannabis equipment, firearms and ammunition were seized. These cases, he said, are still before the courts.

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