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Maple Ridge man found with 500 kgs of pot

Mr. Niger has a Health Canada permit which allows him to grow 195 plants; medical marijuana license that allowed him to grow 195 plants, store 8,775 grams of dried marijuana, and possess or transport 1,200 grams.   - The News/Files
Mr. Niger has a Health Canada permit which allows him to grow 195 plants; medical marijuana license that allowed him to grow 195 plants, store 8,775 grams of dried marijuana, and possess or transport 1,200 grams.
— image credit: The News/Files

A Maple Ridge man is facing a drug trafficking charge after police caught him transporting a large load of marijuana well in excess of his medical permit.

Amrit Pal Singh Niger, who also goes by the name “Paul,” was stopped by Ridge Meadows RCMP on May 24, 2013 after an officer noticed “an overwhelming odour of marijuana permeating the air” when he drove past a white cube van.

Police allege Niger was the driver.

According to court records, Niger produced a Health Canada “Authorization to Possess” permit when Const. Mike Moore approached him.

Although the permit he showed was expired, documents show RCMP later determined he had a valid medical marijuana license that allowed him to grow 195 plants, store 8,775 grams of dried marijuana, and possess or transport 1,200 grams.

Police searched the van and found marijuana in garbage bags that a RCMP spokesperson said was “well-in excess of the allowable limit.”

Court documents show 504 kilograms of marijuana, or 504,000 grams, was seized.

Niger, who is known to police, was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking. He has one previous drug trafficking charge, in 2007, but no convictions.

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit would not comment on any alleged gang association due to privacy concerns, but court records show Niger was stopped by the gang task force in 2012 and issued Motor Vehicle Act violations for driving an uninsured vehicle and without a licence. He pleaded guilty to both counts on Jan. 14 and was issued fines for $345 and $140, respectively.

Sgt. Lindsay Houghton with the CFSEU said in the course of arrests, officers have found several gang members with Health Canada medical marijuana permits.

“During the course of our investigations, some of those who we arrest have been in the possession of medical marijuana licences and have been in contravention of them,” he added.

Ridge Meadows RCMP, however, would not say if officers are seeing rampant abuse of medical marijuana possession permits locally, but a 2012 report by the national police force warned that organized criminal networks are taking advantage of Canada’s medical marijuana program.

The heavily censored intelligence report, obtained by the Canadian Press, revealed that criminals are using family members and associates with clean police records to get around program safeguards.

“Gaining access to or control of a medical marijuana grow operation is highly desirable for criminal networks due to the array of opportunities it would present for the illicit production and diversion of high-grade medical marijuana,” says the report, which was completed in May 2012.

The report also noted that screening an applicant through a criminal record check is insufficient to keep undesirable elements from infiltrating the program.

Niger’s sister, Parmjit Kaur Sandhu, has been linked to several marijuana grow operations in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, both legal and illegal.

In December 2012, three growops were discovered in an apartment building at 22355 McIntosh Avenue, owned by Sandhu, after a fire.

Sandhu was also listed as the owner of 11715 – 224th Street, a property that housed “The Local Gym” and the Golden Ears Boxing Club. The building was demolished in 2010 after police discovered a large growop.

A house she owns on Richardson Road in Pitt Meadows was raided once in 2009 after a grow op was discovered, but tenants eventually obtained a license from Health Canada to grow medical marijuana there.

Health Canada does not comment on individual cases and would not say what happens when a person with an “authorization to possess” is found violating the permit and whether background checks are done to reveal criminal connections.

Starting April 1, however, Niger and the roughly 38,000 Canadians currently licensed to carry medicinal marijuana will no longer be allowed to grow their own cannabis or source it from small-scale designated growers.

Instead, only large, commercial operations authorized by Health Canada will produce and sell pot. Patients will only get dried cannabis shipped to them via mail or courier, a dispensary or commercial grower.

Maple Ridge Coun. Michael Morden called Niger’s arrest “a great example of police being prepared to do what they need to do.”

“God knows what’s going to happen come April 1,” he added.

Morden remains frustrated that there are no plans in place to deal with the abuse of medical pot possession permits by criminals and the dismantling of home-based growops.

Enforcement will once again fall to local police, the fire department and bylaws staff, he notes.

“My single biggest concern is that the collapse of this will be paid for by the taxpayer,” said Morden, who will be vying for the mayor’s seat in the next civic election.

“There is no preparedness for all this. The criminal aspect of all of this has got to go.”

Morden would like to use B.C.’s Community Charter or local bylaws to recoup the costs of inspecting and remediating the soon-to-be defunct medical grows from the growers themselves.

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