Health Canada referred almost 500 cannabis-related cases to federal police over 2-year period

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Health Canada referred nearly 500 cannabis business-related cases to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for possible enforcement action during the two years ending in March 2021, a major increase over fiscal year 2018-19.

The federal government’s top cannabis regulator disclosed the police referrals after MJBizDaily inquired about the referrals’ absence from the agency’s latest compliance and enforcement report.

Health Canada said the referrals “typically consist of illegal cannabis retailers or sales, including physical locations and online sales, illegal cultivation operations and/or illegal delivery or distribution services.”

The person, company or organization targeted in the referrals aren’t identified.

In the 2019-20 fiscal year, 287 cases were sent to the national police force – a ninefold increase over the 2018-2019 financial year, when Health Canada referred 32 cases to the RCMP.

In 2020-21, Health Canada referred another 197 cases to police, the agency told MJBizDaily.

This is the first time the 484 referrals in 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been disclosed.

Combine those 484 referrals with the previously disclosed 32 referrals for fiscal 2018-19, and Health Canada has referred 516 cases to police since the spring of 2019 – about five months after Canada legalized cannabis.

Health Canada explained that, upon receiving a complaint, it advises the individual making the complaint to contact local law enforcement if they suspect illegal activity has taken place, such as the unauthorized production, selling or distributing of cannabis.

Health Canada also said it assesses whether any complaints relate to regulated cultivators, producers or sellers.

“In cases where a complaint relates to illicit activities, the information is referred directly to the RCMP as it is within law enforcement’s mandate to take action against illegal cannabis activity and those who operate outside the legal framework,” a spokesperson said via email.

No licensed producers?

Health Canada told MJBizDaily that none of the cases referred to the federal police service in fiscal 2019-20 directly involved federal license holders or personal/designated medical growers.

However, the spokesperson added that one case “related to a federal license holder” in the 2019-20 year was referred to the RCMP.

“This case was not captured in the data previously provided due to an administrative oversight,” the spokesperson noted.

It’s not known which licensed producer Health Canada is referring to.

The health department said it is unable to comment on any specific case referred to the RCMP because of privacy reasons.

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Health Canada regulates recreational and medical cannabis production.

It also grants individuals permission to cultivate a specified amount of medical marijuana, or people designated to grow it for someone else, known as personal/designated growers.

MJBizDaily was told a specific breakdown of the hundreds of cases referred to police was unavailable.

“While a breakdown is not available, referrals to the RCMP typically consist of illegal cannabis retailers or sales, including physical locations and online sales, illegal cultivation operations, and illegal deliver or distribution services,” the spokesperson wrote.

“In cases where a complaint relates to unauthorized, illicit activities, the information is referred directly to the RCMP.”

6,259 cannabis-related charges

The RCMP would not answer most of MJBizDaily‘s questions regarding the referrals made by Health Canada.

A spokesperson for the federal police force said in a statement that the agency “cannot confirm the number of files referred by Health Canada, nor the number of files looked into by the RCMP pertaining to cannabis.”

However, the RCMP acknowledged it filed 3,139 charges related to cannabis during in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

In the following year, 2020-21, RCMP acknowledged another 3,120 charges related to cannabis.

Police couldn’t say how many of the 6,259 charges – if any – were related to regulated businesses.

The spokesperson said it “would be a very significant effort” to figure that out and the RCMP “will not be in a position to provide you the information requested.”

In the statement, police said: “RCMP federal policing is working on organizational priorities and concentrating efforts towards serious and organized crime and more dangerous drugs, such as Fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

“Federal policing targets the most serious criminal threats to Canadians, including national security, transnational and serious organized crime, and cybercrime.”

Matt Lamers can be reached at matt.lamers@mjbizdaily.com.