Canada is less than a year away from full-on marijuana legalization and lots of entrepreneurs are already getting a contact high off the prospect of making a buck from legal pot.
Some have experience in the black market. Some come from the pharmaceutical industry. Others are horticulturalists and hippies.
And some are cops.
This past week, former Toronto police chief and one-time Conservative cabinet minister Julian Fantino was called out for helping set up a medical marijuana business, even after spending years warning that cannabis was a serious danger (“I guess we can legalize murder too,” Fantino once said of liberalizing Canada’s drug laws), locking up thousands for simple pot possession, and working in a government that implemented harsh minimum jail terms for selling the drug.
In an interview with the CBC’s As it Happens, host Carol Off asked Fantino bluntly: “As chief of police in Toronto, you were very strict about drugs. You put people in jail. There are young people who are in jail because of people like you. You don't see any contradiction between your past life as chief of police?”
Fantino didn’t see any hypocrisy. Evidently, neither do the other former cops, police chiefs, government ministers, and members of police boards who have turned to pot since Ottawa announced its plans to regulate its cultivation and sale.
Take the cutely-named PUF Ventures, a Vancouver-based company that has applied to Health Canada to obtain a license to grow medical marijuana and which plans to branch out into the recreational market, according to regulatory filings.
The company boasts two former cops on its board: Jerry Habuda and Joe Perino, both longtime members of the Toronto Police Force.
Habuda spent a large part of his career investigating drug crimes, including undercover work, surveillance, patrol at a community housing project, and investigating those on bail for drug crimes. Perino, for his part, is a 30-year veteran of the service who worked on the force’s drug investigations unit.
BuzzFeed News reached Habuda to ask how he went from busting people for pot and selling it himself.
“Times have changed,” Habuda says. He’s now 100% onboard with legalizing the drug — and stands to cash in if PUF takes off.
But Habuda says he was never one of the hardliners.
“I wasn’t really worried about the personal users,” Habuda said. “When I was on the job, we’d go after the people who were producing it illegally.” He gave examples of grow-ops moving into apartment complexes and bringing black mold and fungus along with them.
While BuzzFeed News doesn’t have access to Habuda’s policing record, he maintains that he avoided charging recreational users unless they were committing another crime, like firearm possession.
“I wasn’t a big advocate for [arresting] people with simple possession,” he maintained. “I wasn’t going after the guy with one or two joints.” Habuda even says he’s supportive of those with nonviolent drug offences on their criminal records being allowed into the market, just like him. That’s something the federal government is still wrestling with.
Other companies, apart from PUF, have opted to bring on ex-cops as security consultants or advisers — a wise move for many companies, considering marijuana growers have a bevy of federal security regulations to follow.
Norman Inkster, who served as the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police until 1994, served as an independent director of Mettrum Health Corp., a medical marijuana company that was bought out by Canopy Growth earlier this year.
This week, Global News spoke to Derek Ogden, a former cop who lead the RCMP’s drug and organized crime division nationwide. He’s now the president of National Access Cannabis, a medical marijuana company.
“We did see a number of groups across the country that were very, very involved in the cannabis industry and they generated a lot of revenue,” Ogden said of the black market.
Enertopia, a Kelowna, BC-based lithium mining company, hired former Hamilton, Ontario, Police Chief Brian Mullan as a consultant in 2014, rewarding him with a chunk of the company. They ended up abandoning their dreams of opening up a marijuana operation. (It also ended its female lube production operations.) Mullan also worked as a consultant for Lexaria, a medical marijuana research company.
While he was still police chief, Mullan, along with the province, worked to bust and seize marijuana grow-ops.
"This forfeiture sends a strong message that marijuana grow operations will not be tolerated in our community. We will use every civil and criminal law tool available to us to shut these operations down," Mullan said after one such bust.
Ontario-based licensed producer the Green Organic Dutchman boasts former Calgary Police Commissioner Ian Wilms on its board. Wilms wasn’t a cop himself, but sat on the police services board that oversees the city’s force. The company declined to comment or make Wilms available for an interview. Cole Cacciavillani, cofounder and co-chair of Aphria, one of the country’s largest marijuana companies, is also identified as a past member of the police services board in his community.
The merry band of weed pioneers also includes a good number of former politicians.
Senator Larry Campbell, a former Vancouver mayor and member of the RCMP's drug squad, currently sits as a director on the advisory board of Vodis Pharmaceuticals, a medical marijuana company. He’s had to brush off allegations that he is smack dab in the middle of a conflict of interest, given that he will have the ability to study and change the Canadian government’s marijuana legislation even as he stands to potentially profit from legalization, given his stock options in the company.
Campbell, in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, denied there was a conflict. Despite giving advice, publicly, to the Trudeau government on legalization, he says he’s not doing work behind the scenes.
“I’ve been advocating this position [to end marijuana prohibition] for well over 20 years. It’s common knowledge. And it’s common knowledge how I would vote,” he said.
Wally Oppal, a former judge and the former attorney general of British Columbia, is a shareholder in International Herbs Medical Marijuana, a licensed producer. He told the Vancouver Sun: “I do the government stuff.”
Ex-cops, judges, and politicians all bring obvious expertise and know-how to the legal weed business — just like their former adversaries, like the black market horticulturalists. In the new world of pot legalization, they’re all going to have to work together, weird as it may be.
Justin Ling is a freelance journalist based in Toronto who covers defence, security, politics, and people who make mistakes.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.