Police say they are finding a growing number of licensed medicinal marijuana grow-ops with violations in Alberta.
Just a week ago, Olds RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) busted a $2.5-million grow-op just north of Olds.
The rural property contained nearly four times the marijuana plants permitted for medicinal purposes, police say.
“This can only be a front for a trafficking operation,” said Staff Sgt. Keith Hurley, Green Team South, an Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT).
“There is nothing personal about this anymore. It’s a large-scale trafficking operation.”
Police said that a total of 2,137 marijuana plants were found and the owner had a licence for 543 plants.
Five people were arrested and charges are expected to be laid this week.
Hurley said this won’t be the last such operation the RCMP will see in Alberta. He said grow-ops can operate with impunity and under the guise of what should be legal.
“They cast a dark shadow on those that legitimately need to use it,” said Hurley. “There’s nothing we could see that was medically related to this. It looks just like a large commercial growth operation. This is what the new regulations make allowances for where they are not hidden.”
Last year, new medicinal marijuana legislation came into place that shifted the rules to where users must purchase from federally-approved commercial-sized companies rather than grow marijuana at home.
There are 15 licensed producers in Canada, of which one is in Mountain View County.
Last March, a federal court judge granted an injunction allowing those who had licences to “grow their own” under the old legislation to continue on an interim basis as long as they meet the order until the court case is settled.
The trial is expected to begin sometime this year.
Plaintiffs argue the new legislation violates their constitutional rights.
When the old legislation was repealed on March 31, 2014, there were 20,279 people who held a personal use production licence (PUPL) and 3,163 people who held a designated-person production licence (DPPL) to grow for up to four people under one roof. A total of 31,738 people held an authorization to possess in Canada (ATP) licence.
In Alberta, 2,004 people held an ATP, 967 had a PUP and 99 with DPP licences.
A person may have held a maximum of two production licences and the production licence may not necessarily be in the same province as the possession licence.
No new participants are allowed under the legislation as of March 31, 2014.
Hurley said the Olds bust highlights how difficult it is for police to ensure people who hold licences under the previous system are in compliance. He said there are no provisions to allow police to check on compliancy.
As well, Health Canada employee Jeannine Ritchot has testified in federal court that “Health Canada does not have the resources necessary to conduct compliance and enforcement activities in respect of personal production in residential homes.”
There are 15 inspectors for the program in Canada.
Ritchot also said “in the absence of a warrant, and without the homeowner’s consent, Health Canada may not enter a residence to ascertain compliance with the terms of the personal production licences issued for that location.”
Hurley said the situation is concerning because are “no checks and balances” to ensure there are no abuses of the program.