Medical marijuana trucks a hijack target, police chief says

A Southern Ontario police chief says he's worried about the possibility of criminals hijacking delivery trucks leaving Canada's new large-scale medicinal marijuana grow facilities.

Durham police chief Mike Ewles says weakest link is distribution, which could put drivers at risk

Durham Regional Police Chief Mike Ewles says he's worried about the potential for hijacking and theft of courier trucks leaving Canada's new medical marijuana production facilities. (CBC)

A Southern Ontario police chief says he's worried about the possibility of criminals hijacking delivery trucks leaving Canada's new large-scale medicinal marijuana grow facilities.

Health Canada has so far licensed 12 companies to sell marijuana to roughly 40,000 Canadians authorized to grow or use the drug for medical purposes. It was in preparation for regulations originally scheduled to take effect April 1 that would make it illegal to grow pot at home and force patients to get their prescriptions from government growers.  

On Friday, the federal court granted a temporary injunction of the new rules to anyone approved to use or grow medical marijuana before the end of September 2013.

Even so, thousands of patients had for years chosen to purchase their prescriptions from a government-approved producer in Saskatchewan. And others have already signed up with the new suppliers.

Health Canada requires companies applying for a licence to notify their local fire and police chiefs. Durham Regional Police Chief Mike Ewles said he's already received a dozen notifications and that's left him concerned about safety.

"There are certainly certain specifications with regards to the buildings and the locations in which they can grow the medical marijuana, but I think the weakest link in the armour here is the actual distribution after it is produced," said Ewles.

Health Canada regulations stipulate that marijuana must be shipped in securely sealed containers that prevent the escape of telltale odours, inside packages that don't identify what's inside. That's all well and good, but Ewles said he's concerned about the hijacking of courier trucks.  

"It doesn't take long for someone to do a little counter-surveillance and figure out exactly where the location is, wait for the truck to pull out of the lot and into the community and then lo and behold they've just taken over, it's ripe for a takeover and a cargo theft of the entire truck. And that's putting the driver at risk and our community at risk."

Shipping guidelines

MichaelHaines is CEO of Mettrum, a federally licensed producer in southern Ontario that started shipping marijuana to patients at the end of January. He said Mettrum follows Health Canada's shipping guidelines by using a bonded courier that delivers directly to patients who must show identification when they sign for each package.  

"It's quite common for pharmaceutical companies to ship to end users using couriers and we're using the same systems and the same companies they would be using," Haines said.

He added his company isn't allowed to send each patient more than a one-month supply.

"I think if you look at in terms of the average size of package that's being shipped out, it's not a major concern. There's not a large concentration of product at any given time in any one area that would be of concern to the public."  

Health Canada says no package may contain more than 150 grams per package.  

But Brent Zettl said physicians typically prescribe much less. He's CEO of CanniMed, another federally licensed marijuana company in Saskatchewan and a subsidiary of Prairie Plant Systems, which until recently was the only government-approved medical marijuana producer in Canada. Zettl said the average package shipped out by his company contains 20-30 grams.

Cargo theft worries

Even so, Ewles said he's curious how many prescriptions on average, are inside each truck. 

"Are they going to take out hundreds or thousands of packages at a time in a truck. I mean a cargo theft, you know could certainly happen, a takeover could happen in our community because there is still a criminal market for this product and now we're going to be providing it in individual weighed out packages."

Last year Zettl's company shipped 12,000 prescriptions to patients across Canada. Of the five that went missing, Zettl said they had simply been misplaced and were quickly found. He adds CanniMed has implemented an additional security measure.  

"We always ship the product without using the CanniMed name simply because it's supposed to be a private matter for the patient but it's also to protect the patient's security so it's unknown what could potentially be in that package," he said.

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