Nova Scotia

Medical marijuana licence drug ring busted in 2012 using wiretaps

Police used wiretaps to gather evidence before raiding 14 locations in the Halifax area two years ago in their investigation of a scheme that used medical marijuana licenses to illegally grow and traffic drugs.

New details emerge about case as accused continue through court process

RCMP display in December 2012 some of the drugs and weapons seized during raids on 14 locations in the Halifax area. (Blair Rhodes/CBC)

Police deployed wiretaps to gather evidence before raiding 14 locations in the Halifax area two years ago as they investigated allegations that medical marijuana licences were being used to illegally grow and traffic drugs.

The new details are emerging from court records of some of 29 people who were arrested and charged in the case.

Police say the bust in December 2012 netted about 20 kilograms of marijuana, 2,207 marijuana plants and more than $100,000 in cash.

Those arrested included an elementary school principal, a former Olympic paddler and a medical doctor.

One of the first public glimpses into how the scheme worked came last week when one of the smaller players, Brian Leo Hinch, 53, was sentenced in Dartmouth provincial court to six months in jail. He had pleaded guilty to illegal marijuana production and one firearm offence.

Court heard that his wife, Darlene, held a licence to produce medical marijuana for another man, Robert Clement MacDonald. Brian Hinch was growing it and tending the plants, the court was told.

Phone calls tapped

Police intercepted his phone calls in the fall of 2012 and learned that in November, Hinch had harvested three kilograms and sold it to a third man for $5,300.

When officers searched the Hinch home near Porters Lake, they found 65 plants — twice as a many as allowed under the licence. Officers also seized a .22 calibre rifle that wasn't properly stored.

Hinch’s wife declined an on-tape interview Tuesday, but told CBC News that she and her husband where approached to grow medical marijuana by a distant relative.

She said, however, it was a another man who came to collect the harvest every two and a half months and paid the couple between $3,200 and $5,300 each time. She says she thought the grow operation was legal because they had a licence.

Darlene Hinch was initially charged, but those were dropped last week. Charges have also been dropped against some others in the case, including MacDonald, while most of the remaining accused continue through the court process.

Medical marijuana legal battle

This comes as the federal government is in the midst of a high profile legal fight to revamp medical marijuana rules in the country. It wants to put an end to a cottage industry in which approved patients grow their own marijuana or buy from small producers, and replace it with commercial producers.

However, the new law is being challenged by some medical marijuana users who say they only grow in safe and secure environments and want to continue the practice.

The case is due to be heard in February, but last year the Federal Court issued an injunction that exempts patients from the new law until a final ruling is made.

At the end of 2013 there were more than 37,000 Canadians authorized to posses medical marijuana. Nearly 25,000 were licensed to produce their own. There were also roughly 3,900 licences that designated another person to produce for the user.  

Police have complained that the system, put in place in 2001, is open to abuse and is sometimes infiltrated by criminals who take advantage of licences.