Law enforcement agencies cracked down on what Ontario Provincial Police described as an international “criminal enterprise” last week, seizing an estimated $42 million in drugs, equipment, weapons and other items, and arresting eight suspects.
A Jordan greenhouse surrounded by police Aug. 13 was likely one of 26 locations searched by officers last week that also included places in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Welland, Simcoe, Markham, Canfield, Leamington, Scarborough, Richmond Hill and British Columbia, at the culmination of a year-long investigation dubbed Project WOOLWICH.
Police says members of the criminal enterprise had been exploiting Health Canada medical, personal and designate cannabis production, instead growing the plant to sell illegally, including in the U.S.
Det. Insp. Jim Walker, from the OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and provincial joint forces cannabis enforcement team, said investigators have learned criminal enterprises are abusing Health Canada registration, using it as a loophole to grow well over what their allotment is.
“They’re flagrantly overgrowing that amount, so now you have these large-scale cannabis farms under the regime of Health Canada that they hide behind,” Walker said in a video released Friday by the OPP.
Investigators say shipments of U.S.-bound illegal cannabis were also seized, as well as two shipments of U.S. currency being shipped to Canada – leading to the involvement of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations offices in Buffalo and Toronto.
Michael Buckley, the Homeland Security Investigations attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, called the joint investigation “an excellent example of the ongoing collaboration between the Homeland Security Investigations … the Ontario Provincial Police and Niagara Regional Police.”
“It clearly highlights that the critical sharing of information can successfully lead to the dismantlement of criminal organizations in both countries,” he said in a media release.
Police say large shipments of illegal cannabis were also being sent across the country from British Columbia to Ontario.
Walker said there has been “a dramatic increase” in the illegal production and distribution of cannabis in the two years since the drug was legalized in Canada.
“It’s such a profit-driven market right now,” he said. “The demand for illicit cannabis far exceeds what they can supply at this time.
“Project WOOLWICH has dismantled a very sophisticated criminal enterprise that spanned from B.C. to Ontario and into the United States.”
Police say the provincial joint forces cannabis enforcement team investigation — including law enforcement officers from the OPP, the provincial asset forfeiture unit, the clandestine laboratory investigative response team, Niagara, York, Waterloo and Hamilton police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others — began with information uncovered by Niagara Regional Police.
Police say the identities of the suspects, who have been released pending a Sept. 17 court appearance in St. Catharines, will be released at a later date.
$42 million in seized items include:
101,049 illegal cannabis plants;
1,921 pounds of illegal cannabis bud;