Legal Marijuana Makes Law Enforcement Communication Even More Important

By Andrew Richards, CEO, Spire Secure Logistics

The need for different law enforcement agencies to communicate clearly and quickly with each other is obvious to everyone. With a major change in the law, like the legalization of marijuana, the necessity of rapid and clear communication is increased.

What happens when communication doesn’t happen? Back in November 2017, the press reported on an incident in Detroit where officers of the 12th precinct were posing as drug dealers and officers of the 11th precinct tried to arrest them while other members of the latter precinct were carrying out a drug raid. One officer was hospitalized as a result of the ensuing fight, assault and battery charges were considered, and the supervisor wound up being reassigned. Police Chief James Craig called it “one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen in this department.”

The Detroit Free Press reported, “Poor communication led officers from the 11th and 12th Precincts to be in the same area, at the same time, without proper notification ….  Craig said somebody from the 12th Precinct should have let the 11th Precinct know their officers planned to be in the area, but that didn’t happen.”

It’s funny in a Keystone Kops kind of way, except that lives were in real danger and someone might easily have gone to the morgue rather than the hospital.

The legalization of cannabis adds a large set of complications to the situation that officers will face. Before legalization, the situation was simple. Cultivation, sale, possession of pot were all illegal, and could be dealt with rather directly. Yet the incident in Detroit still happened. After legalization, some cultivation is legal, some sales are legal, most possession is legal – some but not all. The Detroit incident, under these circumstances, could become business as usual rather than an extreme case.

Taking Colorado as an example, you were allowed six plants for personal use, but only three could be in flower at a time. This changed on January 1, 2018, when 12 per residence became the rule. Homes with people under 21 living there have to have special enclosed places to grow these plants. Only licensed grow establishments can sell cannabis. Above all, counties and municipalities are allowed to have stricter rules.

It is easy to see how this creates a labyrinth for law enforcement to navigate. If a county decides pot remains banned, what does law enforcement do about a truck passing through the county as part of an otherwise legal operation? The county sheriff probably needs to handle this differently than he would discovering a greenhouse with 100 flowering plants in his jurisdiction. A central clearing house for information is necessary.

In 2018, Canada is going to legalize cannabis if the Trudeau government has its way. According to Jeff Meyers, our COO, Canadian licensed producers will need to cultivate an aggregate of 610,000kg of cannabis to meet conservative projects of domestic and export demand in 2019. Last year total estimated production of 31,000kg represents just 5% of this total. Organized crime is poised to fill the gaps.” Meyers continues, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, provincial and local law enforcement, and private sector security firms for that matter, are going to need to share information as never before. You don’t want to violate the rights of people to partake of a legal product, but at the same time, you don’t want ‘freelance producers and suppliers’ creating problems because they won’t follow the laws. Law enforcement is going to need to coordinate and communicate as never before.”

The Canadians do have an advantage, as do the states and territories in the US that are just getting around to legalize cannabis now the pioneers like Colorado and Washington State have done much of the trial-and-error learning already. The Brookings Institute reported, Colorado’s strong rollout is attributable to a number of elements. Those include: leadership by state officials; a cooperative, inclusive approach centering on task forces and working groups; substantial efforts to improve administrative communication [italics added]; adaptive regulation that embraces regulatory lookback and process-oriented learning; reorganizing, rebuilding, and re-staffing critical state regulatory institutions; and changes in culture in state and local government, among interest groups, and among the public.”

Those who are now legalizing cannabis can take what the pioneers have learned and adapt it to their own situations. What they cannot do is ignore the need to communicate.


Andy Richards is CEO of Spire Secure Logistics, a Canada-based company focused on security in all its aspects in the legal marijuana space, and a seasoned leader in both police services and international private security for high-risk regulated industries. After a diverse thirty-four-year career in three separate police agencies, Andy retired in June 2015 as a Deputy Chief Constable in the Greater Vancouver area.



Organized Crime Remains Interested In Cannabis Even After Legalization

By Andrew Richards

One of the arguments for legalizing marijuana is that it takes a source of revenue away from organized crime. However, that is not entirely accurate. Legalization and control of cannabis reduces the mob’s take home pay, but it doesn’t eliminate it completely. The economics of black markets simply makes it too attractive.

Tobacco offers us an excellent model for legal marijuana. The product is legal, it is sold in a regulated market, and the government taxes it to raise revenue and discourage over-indulgence. Where organized crime sees the opportunity is in by-passing the regulations and skipping the taxes.

The experience of the Province of Ontario, Canada, is instructive here. A carton of 200 cigarettes is now so heavily taxed that it costs the smoker C$110 (US$85.50). Sold loose without the tax stamp, the same 200 goes for around $20. As many as a third of all cigarettes smoked in Ontario are contraband. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police “estimate suggests at least 175 organized crime groups dabble in the contraband tobacco trade and use proceeds to fund other enterprises such as drugs and human smuggling.”

In the Netherlands, coffee shops legally sell marijuana, but it is illegal to cultivate it. So, the shops wind up buying from criminals, and while the harm reduction is obvious, the criminal element carries on this its business interests. The nation is working on a regulated cultivation program as a test.

In Colorado, home of American legalization, the Marijuana Unit of the Denver Police Department has doubled its headcount of undercover detectives since 2000, when medical cannabis was allowed. The reason is to deal with organized crime.  Sergeant Aaron Rebeterano says illegal growing operations in the state are increasing. “What we’re seeing now is more organized criminal enterprises where they will do anything to protect those grows. Remember there is a lot of money they invest in them and we do see an increasing number of firearms and other crimes associated with them; home invasions, burglaries, robberies, things of that nature.”

The federal government in Canada plans to legalize marijuana and regulate it, passing the appropriate legislation by July 1, 2018. With only about 3-5% of demand in Canada likely to be met by Licensed Producers (LPs), the stage is set for the current black market to adapt to legalization without missing a beat. The RCMP and provincial authorities will still have plenty to do according to analysts.

However, the private sector can help. The four fields that need addressing are compliance with Health Canada’s rules, design of security platforms using cutting edge technology, secure transportation of product, and insurance to manage risks. Get those right, and the effort organized crime must put in to make a profit becomes onerous.

In the US, the private sector is also addressing cannabis risk management and defense against organized crime. General Cannabis, based in Denver, has an entire subsidiary (Iron Protection Group) dedicated to protecting the legal marijuana industry and run by Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans.

Only a few die-hard prohibitionists believe that marijuana legalization reduces the overall social harm of the drug, but those who believe that organized crime has lost interest in pot are just as wrong.

Andy Richards is CEO of Spire Secure Logistics, a Canada-based company focused on security in all its aspects in the legal marijuana space, and a seasoned leader in both police services and international private security for high-risk regulated industries. After a diverse thirty-four-year career in three separate police agencies, Andy retired in June 2015 as a Deputy Chief Constable in the Greater Vancouver area.