Doctor feel-good practising without a licence: Winnipeg police bust illegal cannabis operation
Dr. Kush warehouse in Sargent Park subject of raid where 'sophisticated' business operating outside of the law
If you were to call Dr. Kush on Friday hoping to place a cannabis order drop-off, you'd find the line is no longer in service. Its social media accounts are offline. The blazing neon-themed website is still up, but it looks like they're fresh out of stock.
That's because though the business appeared on the surface to be as sophisticated as many licensed retailers post-legalization, police say the Winnipeg distributor was operating outside the law.
"This is a first that I've seen," Winnipeg police Patrol-Sgt. Jeffrey Norman said, standing in front of a large table of packaged cannabis products inside police headquarters on Friday.
"Very sophisticated, run very business-like and run very detailed."
Products were stealthily concealed using insulated delivery bags disguised by familiar food delivery service labelling, said Norman.
Several on display during the Winnipeg police news conference had Skip The Dishes branding on them.
Norman said Dr. Kush was operating a successful, polished illegal cannabis trafficking business, until it wasn't.
On Wednesday, police raided a Dr. Kush building in Sargent Park that included a warehouse distribution centre.
Investigators seized over $192,000 in prepackaged cannabis, nearly $15,800 in vaping oil, about $14,400 in packaged product known as shatter and 10,000 units of custom packing material. Another $8,000 in computers and tablets used to process online orders and deliveries were seized.
Police arrested a 43-year-old man who is facing charges of possessing cannabis for the purpose of selling and distributing, as well as possessing proceeds of property obtained by crime.
Two more suspects are still in the community somewhere, said Const. Rob Carver.
Norman was unable to say how long Dr. Kush has been in business in Winnipeg. The company claims on its website to be a licensed cannabis courier service in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba that was formed in 2014 by a co-op of medical license holders.
They source their products from qualified growers, says the Dr. Kush website. The company apparently has a philanthropic side, too:
"We have a team of cannabis savants that hand select all strains and test them for quality assurance, THC content and molecular make-up. As part of our overall business strategy, we set aside a proceed of monies every month to donate to select charities that combat: addiction, mental health and abuse of vulnerable peoples/animals."
Products look legitimate
Investigators with police and Manitoba Justice checked with Health Canada and Manitoba Liquor and Gaming and Cannabis Authority, both of which confirmed Dr. Kush's Winnipeg operation isn't licensed.
The product was grown and harvested at an unknown location, Norman said, before it was shipped to the Sargent Park warehouse where the vape oil and shatter was created.
The warehouse had a map of all its Winnipeg delivery zones set up to make for efficient drop-offs, and products were packaged there in line with Health Canada safety guidelines, said Norman.
But he suggested that appearance of legitimacy begins to blur the at the edges.
Instructions to online customers look somewhat askew to what other licensed retailers are doing.
For one, Dr. Kush has only been accepting cash lately.
"If possible we would appreciate if you put you're money in an envelope and left in your mailbox," the website reads.
Prospective customers are told to fill out a form online and include the name, number and address of a person who has used the service previously — a somewhat anachronistic failsafe commonly used by some dealers during pre-legal times to weed out narcs.
'Who truly is the victim?'
"One of the questions that I have received already in regards to this investigation is, especially with cannabis being legal, who truly is the victim?" Norman said.
He noted at least three, including businesses that have dumped time and resources into obtaining the right licenses.
The second group of victims, said Norman, were customers duped into buying a product they may have thought was coming from a licensed company.
"They're not getting the quality control that's been set and put in place by regulatory bodies," Norman said, adding rodent feces was found in the processing area of the Dr. Kush warehouse.
"This wasn't their concern."
No testing has been done yet to determine THC-levels or possible contamination of the seized products.
Legitimate pot delivery
A third group of victims, Norman said, is food delivery companies whose bags and branding were being used to "camouflage this illegal business."
Another kind of legitimate delivery service business was also indirectly impacted.
"The more we can promote ways of addressing consumer needs, the better equipped we are to tackle the black market, have people consuming safe and legal products, and put money back in legitimate channels," said Ian Delves, president and co-founder of Super Anytime.
The company recently launched as a cannabis delivery platform that operates on a similar model to Skip the Dishes, delivering weed rather than food.
Curtis Ling, regional manager with Pineapple Express Delivery, another legal cannabis delivery service in Winnipeg, said he was surprised an operation like Dr. Kush's managed to go so long without being busted.
Pineapple Express staff undergo criminal record checks and must have good driving records. Ling said drivers have been busy lately.
"Our volume has been up quite a bit as of late with our partners in the city, with the state during the COVID-19 crisis," he said.
"I think especially now it's great for customers know exactly where their product comes from and goes though the proper process and packaging."
There haven't been any complaints registered with police by former Dr. Kush customers, said Norman.
That might change now, but it might not. They ran a tight ship after all.
"As far as this level, I can't even think of … other types of drug investigations where I have seen this level of organization and professionalism," said Norman.
Do you have information about this story? Email Bryce Hoye.