Police dismantle London-area criminal organization, seize $32M in pot

Items seized by police during Project Gainsborough. Photo courtesy of the OPP.

More than $32 million worth of illegal cannabis has been seized after police shut down a criminal organization operating in the London-area.

OPP and London police began their 16-month investigation, dubbed Project Gainsborough, in June 2020 after investigators became aware of the “large-scale distribution of illegal cannabis and cannabis derivatives” and the trafficking of cocaine in the region.

According to police, the pot was being moved through an illegal website that offered delivery service in London, Kitchener, Hamilton, and Toronto. The organization allegedly responsible is also believed to have been exporting the illegal cannabis both domestically and globally.

“We were able to gather evidence that the criminal organization and their associates obtained their supply of illegal cannabis from legal cannabis grow operations,” OPP Detective Inspector Jim Walker said at a virtual news conference held on Tuesday. “The investigation also provided evidence that the identified individuals who are exploiting the Health Canada registrations to produce or designate someone to produce cannabis for medical purposes by using the regime for criminal purposes and monetary gains. The cannabis produced using these registrations was being diverted to the illegal cannabis market.”

Two clandestine cannabis extraction labs in Middlesex County and Brampton were located and dismantled by police as part of the investigation. On November 3, approximately 200 officers aided in the search of 15 locations across southern Ontario, including London, Hamilton, Toronto, St. Thomas, Middlesex County, and Norfolk County.

During those raids, police seized 495 kilograms of illegal cannabis resin/oil, 7,166 kilograms of illegal cannabis bud, roughly 10,000 packages of illegal cannabis edibles, 2,773 kilograms of illegal cannabis shake, 185 kilograms of illegal cannabis shatter, 15,343 illegal cannabis plants, 65 kilograms of psilocybin, 124 grams of cocaine, 28 oxycodone pills, 50 hydromorphone pills, more than $653,000 worth of grow equipment, six firearms and ammunition, more than $53,000 cash, and six vehicles.

“The illegal cannabis trade continues to be dominated by organized crime. The legalization of cannabis has not removed the involvement of these organized crime groups as it remains to be a lucrative commodity and is often used to fund other criminal activities,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox. “For criminals that aim to jeopardize the safety of our communities by trafficking these illegal commodities – the OPP and our partners in law enforcement will continue to relentlessly pursue them, seize their property and dismantle their operations.”

Twenty-one people, including 14 from London, two from St. Thomas, three from Tillsonburg, and one each from Hamilton and Stoney Creek, have been charged with a combined 118 offences. Those charged range in age from 21 to 73. The charges include drug, gun, and organized crime related offences.

All but three of those charged have been released from custody with various court dates in November and December.