Police bust marijuana grow op in King Township worth $6.5M, seize 4,000 plants
Chris Fox and Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Friday, August 3, 2018 2:13PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 3, 2018 6:34PM EDT
Police seized thousands of marijuana plants from a licensed cannabis operation in the Township of King last week after determining that the sprawling facility was producing about five times the amount of the drug that it was permitted to.
York Regional Police executed a search warrant at the property on Strawberry Lane on July 26 following a complaint from a member of the public.
Police say that while the operators of the facility had three separate Health Canada licences that permitted them to grow 875 marijuana plants, the amount of cannabis found by investigators far exceeded that total.
“They were spread across 22 greenhouses in absolute deplorable conditions… It was not conditions that any human being should be expected to work in,” York Regional Police Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique told CTV News Toronto.
“From a dog that was not well cared for, to a trailer with seven mattresses in it that we believe the workers would’ve been staying in, to unsafe electrical conditions… cables and hoses running all over the place, chemicals and product open and exposed. It was a very unsafe environment.”
As a result, police ended up seizing more than 4,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $6.5 million. The 875 plants that the facility was licenced to grow were left behind.
Carrique described the operation as “nothing short of a criminal operation.”
“They were entitled to have 875 plants, which we have to leave behind. But that causes me, as a member of the community, to say if they were growing in excess of 4,000 plants, where are those 875 destined for? Certainly not personal use, I’m going to say,” he said.
Samkeo Vanvilay, of Laval, Quebec and Chi Chung Phan, of Montreal, are both charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and producing marijuana.
According to police, the suspects charged in the case worked at the grow op and were not those approved for licenses.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. Police anticipate that more charges will be laid as they investigate further.
Residents in the area tell CTV News Toronto that since the production facility opened up a few years ago, people from the property have approached area farmers and offered under-the-table deals to set up greenhouses on their properties. Police have not confirmed this detail.
One resident, who did not want to provide their name, said, "Unfortunately this area used to be a great vegetable belt, now it's becoming the marijuana belt."
Carrique said the findings cause further concern for local law enforcement, who are trying to prepare for the possible ramifications of the federal government legalization recreational marijuana this year.
“We’re not even aware of these situations. We come across them when there is a complaint, we make an inquiry with Health Canada and at that point we’re told whether there is a licence for that location,” he said.
“This is illegal today and it will be illegal in Canada once cannabis is legalized. These types of activities will still be unlawful.”
Canada’s Border Security Minister and point-man on pot, Bill Blair, echoed York police’s concerns.
He said operations like the one in King Township are why the government are fine-tuning rules on production and distribution in time for Bill C-45 to come into effect on Oct. 17.
“They have the authorization to cultivate under the medical marijuana regulations but they’re clearly exceeding that and breaking the law,” he told CTV News Toronto.
“It’s a dangerous operation for the community, it creates product that’s unregulated, untested, unsafe and that’s exactly why we brought very strict regulatory control… It’s clearly in response to that type of criminality.”
With files from CTV News Toronto's Tamara Cherry