Pubdate: Tue, 18 Oct 2016
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Juris Graney
Page: A1


You won't find many, if any, people working in law enforcement ready
to admit that marijuana trafficking isn't still on their radar.

In fact, they will go to great lengths to tell you

But when you are dealing with the emergence of the province's
deadliest killer drug fentanyl - a synthetic opioid 100 times more
toxic than morphine - limited policing resources have to be focused on
saving lives.

More than 400 Albertans have died from fentanyl overdoses since 2015
and there is an even more deadly version waiting in the wings. When
you factor in the possible legalization of marijuana by the Trudeau
government, the argument could be made that policing the production,
possession and trafficking of marijuana has dropped down the priority

The number of clandestine grow-op busts by Alberta Law Enforcement
Response Teams (ALERT) north of Red Deer have plummeted to just four
so far this year from 20 in each of 2014 and 2015.

Data compiled by Alberta RCMP also shows the number of cannabis
trafficking violations has dropped 34 per cent since 2012, with the
most significant drop in the past two years.

The exact factors at play in the decrease in marijuana violations are
complex, but some of the decline is being attributed to the public's
confusion surrounding what is legal and what is not.

"It (marijuana) is something that is continually on the radar of
police," ALERT Staff Sgt. Pierre Blais said. "It's not something we
have discarded but, without the public's assistance, it is very hard
for us to initiate anything."

Blais said ALERT has to "prioritize our limited resources" based on an
assessment on the potential impacts on the community.

"As we all know, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and is killing a lot
of people," he said.

Another explanation for the drop in trafficking numbers is that
effective policing is acting as a deterrent.

Then again, maybe it is just criminals getting smarter.

Up until three years ago, all grow-ops were illegal in Canada, but
weed has now moved from makeshift underground bunkers and hydroponic
hovels to legal facilities producing medical-grade marijuana.

Police are aware that a small fraction of those have connections with
organized crime, which uses legal facilities for not-so-legal purposes.

"Sometimes those people who apply through Health Canada will use that
as a guise to grow more plants and traffic the excess," Blais said.

In a country long viewed as having relaxed attitudes toward weed, the
fact remains that the production and possession of buds is still
illegal unless it is for medical purposes.

Statistics Canada data compiled by Postmedia found - perhaps
unsurprisingly - that RCMP investigated almost 40 out of every 1,000
people in Lake Louise for possessing pot in 2015, making that mountain
town the most heavily policed one in Alberta.

Fellow ski village Jasper was ranked second, with 30 out of every
1,000 people investigated for possessing cannabis.

"We are still enforcing the laws of today," Blais said.

"We don't know what is going to happen in the future, but as it stands
right now, for those who are growing marijuana without a medical
licence or possess marijuana without a medical licence, it is illegal."

While Alberta's trafficking numbers are down, there have still been
some significant busts.

A routine baggage examination in 2013 at Edmonton International
Airport of a flight from Jamaica uncovered 200 kilograms of marijuana.

One year later, following a five-month investigation by ALERT and the
Canadian Border Services Agency, 292 kilograms was seized from a
storage facility in west Edmonton and a semi-tractor at the airport.

Since 2011, there have been 65 marijuana, hashish and hashish liquid
seizures at the airport.

Trafficking is not just confined to airports and you need only look at
a map of Alberta to understand how else marijuana moves to the east -
two main highways enter the province from the Canadian Rockies and
exit into the vast expanse of Saskatchewan.

So as tourists putter along Highway 16 and the Trans-Canada, catching
glimpses of the breathtaking beauty of Pyramid Mountain or Sawback
Range, Mounties are catching something else.

What might start as a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light, a
stray seatbelt or a driver oblivious to the speed limit can lead to
the discovery of contraband.

Most trafficking arrests rely on hours of painstaking investigative
work, but - as almost any officer will attest - never underestimate
the stupidity of criminals.

"It's endless what the criminal element will do to avoid detection,"
said Sgt. Darrin Turnbull, traffic advisory NCO for southern Alberta

"We are well aware that criminals travel on our highways, and we are
attuned to that fact and we are always on the lookout for more than
beyond the initial ticket and more than that initial traffic stop,{ he

"When you seize a quantity of drugs, whether it is marijuana or GHB or
fentanyl, by taking that drug out of our community, you are saving
lives," he added.
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