Nfld. & Labrador

Cannabis black market takes $1.2M hit as NLC drug unit begins

Ten months into the legalization of cannabis, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation's drug enforcement unit is working at full speed, according to the minister responsible.

New NLC drug officers can investigate, seize drugs and get search warrants 

Cannabis gummies were seized during recent NLC investigations. Edibles will be available legally in Newfoundland and Labrador on Dec. 16. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation says the price of black market cannabis is going down, as its newly formed drug enforcement unit boasts seizures of dried cannabis, edibles, oils and weapons.

Three months ago, the NLC established a drug enforcement unit that has the authority to investigate, seize drugs and get search warrants. 

"It is the only drug enforcement agency of any of the regulators across the country. So we're breaking new ground here," said Tom Osborne, minister responsible for the Crown corporation.

"What we've seen so far is the value of product in the illicit market has dropped from about $10 a gram to somewhere in the range of $6 a gram."

Those details were revealed during a news conference at the NLC head office in St. John's on Thursday, during which a cache of illegal cannabis products were put on display. 

Cannabis has been seized in many different forms, including dried, canned and edibles. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Over 240 pounds of dried cannabis and more than 4,500 packages of other products — ranging from edibles and seeds to oils — have been confiscated so far.

NLC executive and former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Sean Ryan said $1.2 million in cannabis and extracts have been seized on four search warrants since June.

"We've got honey, we've even got something that resembles cat food which is canned cannabis … so it's here in pretty much every shape, form and variety," said Ryan, who is also a former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer

The success, Osborne said, would not be possible without NLC partnerships with the RNC, RCMP and Canada Post. 

NLC executive Sean Ryan says four recent drug busts have dented the black market. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Black market still standing

Despite the large seizures, the black market is still very much alive. It's complicated and well run, Ryan said.

"It's been no secret — the retailers have demonstrated their concern and vocalized their concern about the black market. And we are listening and taking it seriously."

Some of the products the NLC has found on the illicit market are not yet for sale legally. 

Once more cannabis products come on the market in December, Ryan said, the NLC will be looking to see if the black market will take a further dip.

The NLC says it has seized illegal drugs, cash and weapons since the formation of its drug enforcement unit, aimed at reducing the black market. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Ryan and Osborne also took time Thursday while speaking to media to make a pitch to those who still buy on the black market. 

"There is no quality assurance. Some reports find anything from fecal matter to fertilizers to pesticides," said Ryan, adding that people who buy from illegal dealers are also funding the existence of weapons. 

Ryan said other drugs have been discovered during NLC searches, including two kilograms of cocaine that was seized recently. 

"We're not going to make the illicit market disappear overnight. It didn't disappear overnight with alcohol and it's not with cannabis."

In the first nine months, there has been about $30 million in sales in the legal market.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Zach Goudie

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