Organized criminals in the GTA are exploiting loopholes in Canada’s medical marijuana licensing laws to create massive grow-ops which finance widespread drug operations, York police said after charging 60 people and allegedly seizing more than $45-million in drugs.
The arrests came out of two parallel York police investigations — dubbed Projects “Zen” and “Moon” — that focused on drug trafficking by organized crime groups, some of which were supplying street gangs in the GTA, police said at a news conference in Aurora on Thursday.
“It’s all organized crime,” Det. Insp. Jim Walker of the OPP, who were involved in Project Moon, said in an interview at the press conference, at which drugs, cash and seized firearms were on display.
The busts included the largest fentanyl seizure of its kind in York Region history, police said.
Project Moon, which resulted in 42 arrests, targeted what police call a large-scale synthetic drug network, including Asian organized crime groups and the Parkdale Cripps street gang.
The suspects were funding their operations through the production and sale of illicit cannabis by abusing the Health Canada medical licencing system, police said.
They were using large grow-op facilities north of Toronto to produce and distribute drugs including methamphetamine, ecstasy, shatter and magic mushrooms, police said.
Police said officers seized more $40-millon in drugs, including more than than 20,000 illegally grown cannabis plants, more than 560 kilograms of dried cannabis, 23 kilograms of meth, 15,300 ecstasy pills, about four kilograms of magic mushrooms, 400 Viagra pills, $220,000 in currency and four firearms, including a TEC-9 semi-automatic pistol with a silencer.
York police Supt. Mike Slack said criminals are purchasing legally obtained marijuana production permits and using them to start up virtual cannabis farms.
“None of it was going to the legitimate licence owner,” Slack said, noting that some of the product was destined for the U.S.
“Traditionally, Canada has always been an exporter of cannabis,” Walker said.
Project Zen, which resulted in eight arrests, dealt with a Vaughan-based group and followed up on the arrest of a suspect who was allegedly found with more than three kilograms of cocaine in 2018.
Project Zen concluded with the seizure of high volumes of synthetic drugs, including more than five kilograms of fentanyl — what police called York Region’s largest-ever seizure of the drug.
Also seized were 16.5 kilograms of meth pills and more than 56 kilograms of cannabis.
Police say they dismantled drug labs during the operations.
Among those arrested in Project Zen was Dat Nguyen, 26, of Vaughan, who was on bail for previous drug charges relating to a drug bust near Kleinburg last year.
Nguyen was charged last August after police said they seized more than $3 million in drugs — including cocaine, marijuana, heroin and fentanyl — and equipment from a residence in Vaughan.
His new charges include cocaine trafficking and conspiracy charges.
Also arrested was Tien Chien of Markham, who is charged with 16 separate drug trafficking offences.
Project Moon was a joint operation also involving Toronto police and the OPP; Project Zen involved
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Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org