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Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have seized over 122,000 illegal cannabis plants between July 1 and October 15, according to an OPP press release.
The raids were conducted by the "OPP Regional Community Street Crime Units (CSCU), along with members of the OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau (OCEB), Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Tactics and Rescue Unit (TRU)."
Cannabis was legalized in Canada in October of 2018, but the government has nevertheless failed to stamp out the black market for the drug. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of cannabis sales in Canada are conducted in the black market. In Ontario, as much as 75 percent of all cannabis sales are conducted over the black market.
The difficulty in stamping out the black market is a matter of economics as cannabis retailers in provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia are not allowed to purchase cannabis directly from licensed producers. Regulations on the industry make it difficult to compete with prices offered by black market dealers for similar products, despite quality and safety concerns.
According to the OPP, the valuation of the confiscated plants exceeds $143 million. 195 individuals have been arrested in connection with the illegal grow-ops "exploiting the Health Canada medical, personal and designate cannabis production regime."
The OPP described the criminal operations as "large-scale" and "sophisticated," with criminals operating under the guise of legality covertly transferring cannabis designated for medical purposes to the black market.
Police additionally recovered 36 illegal firearms, over $76,000 in cash, and over $514,000 in criminal proceeds in connection with the drug busts. All warrants, of which there were 52, were executed in the south of the province, including 25 in the Central Region, 24 in the East Region, and only 3 in the West Region.
The OPP warned citizens that purchasing black market cannabis is illegal and "could lead to a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year."
The OPP did not release any details of charges against the 195 individuals arrested.