Canadian law enforcement arrested four men who flew a helicopter at low altitude to smuggle cannabis across the US-Canada border.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ontario and Quebec made the arrests as part of a 16-month joint investigation with US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Ontario Provincial Police into the group’s activities, which also included the import of guns and cocaine into the US.

Law enforcement officials believe the group grew marijuana illegally in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) before flying it across the US border with a Bell 206A Jet Ranger helicopter.

Investigating officers executed six search warrants across GTA and Quebec, seizing around 800 plants, cannabis flower, 400 grams of suspected cocaine and a “quantity of suspected restricted and prohibited handguns.”

Recreational cannabis use was legalized in Canada in 2018, but it remains illegal at the federal level in the US, although eleven states now permit recreational possession and sales. It is nonetheless illegal to transport cannabis out of Canada without licensing and its cultivation is also strictly regulated.

The four men, all Ontario residents, were charged with conspiracy to unlawfully export cannabis, unlawful marijuana cultivation and possession of forged documents. Some of the men faced separate charges including illegal possession of brass knuckles, possession of cocaine and marijuana possession with intent to illegally distribute.

Police also seized the helicopter as well as a truck and trailer used in the smuggling operation. Officers are still determining where the men obtained the handguns.

“This important disruption removed 18 firearms from a criminal organization that posed a significant threat to Canadian communities and brazenly exploited our shared border through the air,” said Michael Buckley, a spokesperson for HSI. While a recent analysis found marijuana legalization in the US results in less cannabis smuggling from Mexico, the impact of Canada legalizing the plant on illicit exports into the US hasn’t generally been given a great deal of thought. But, according to ABC news, US Customs and Border Protection seized 40,000 pounds of marijuana along the northern border this year, with a 1,000 percent increase in drug seizures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Images via Reuters

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