Medical growers driving illicit cannabis production in B.C

Culprits use Health Canada licences as a cover

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By Graham Abraham

The majority of illegal cannabis grow operations in the province are conducted by licenced medical growers producing far over their legal capacity, according to both the RCMP and the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety.

“What we are seeing is an expansion of medical authorizations,” said Sgt. Shane Holmquist, who works in drug advisory for the RCMP. “It can be used as a cover for, you know, some large-scale production on some of these sites.”

Growers manipulating the system

Holmquist said that growers will often produce much greater quantities of cannabis than they are legally permitted under their Health Canada licence, then sell the excess product for profit.

In one case he referenced, Holmquist said that a medically-licenced grower was legally allowed to grow up to 998 plants at a time, but was caught growing 16,931 plants.

In 2020, Delta Police seized 18,000 cannabis plants and 1,400 pounds of cannabis from an illegal grow site.

Police said that Hells Angels stickers were found on motorcycles located on the property.

In Canada, those with a medical prescription can receive a Health Canada licence to grow their own cannabis.

In 2021, 292,399 Canadians were prescribed cannabis for medical purposes. Of those, 39,525 or around 14 percent are licenced to cultivate and produce their own cannabis for personal consumption.

The licence does not allow the grower to sell the cannabis. Holmquist said that a lack of data makes enforcement challenging.

“It is challenging because we just don’t have the data. Like, I would love to be able to say to you that, you know, this is the percentage of investigations that are grows or this the percentage of medical authorizations that are going over or the percentage being compliant. I just don’t have that data.”

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth also said that the majority of illicit grow operations are being operated by those who have obtained a medical licence to grow for personal use.

Farnworth agreed with Holmquist that the lack of data available, collected and shared is insufficient in order to adequately address and deter illegal activity.

“Part of the challenge is that there is a lack of inspection by Health Canada on that. And we can work if we have an understanding of where [illegal grow operations] are, but there’s not a lot of information sharing that allows us to go after them.”

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