Police in a southern Manitoba town have seized what they believe may be a type of hallucinogenic plant linked to the 2012 deaths of two Quebec women, in what's being described as one of the largest drug busts in the town's history.
Officers in Altona, Man., a town about 90 kilometres south of Winnipeg, found a large quantity of the plant, commonly known as kratom, while searching an apartment. Cash and several other types of drugs, including marijuana, edibles, counterfeit Xanax, MDMA and other prescription medications were seized.
"Obviously we're concerned about it," said Perry Batchelor, chief of the Altona Police Service. A news release described kratom as a new substance to the force.
The bust was made April 10 as part of "Project Southbend," a joint investigation that began in March between Altona police and the Canada Border Services Agency. The drugs are worth an estimated $18,000, according to police.
Plant native to southeast Asia
Kratom does not fall under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning it's legal in Canada. It's a plant native to southeast Asia that is traditionally used as a herbal medicine, but some use it as a recreational drug.
"One individual we dealt with that day, his teeth were green, his lips were green," from eating kratom, Batchelor said. "He had eaten two tablespoons full of this stuff and he was extremely high."
The leaves are typically ground up and users either ingest them directly or add them to drinks.
Kratom leaves in beverage that killed sisters
Ground-up kratom leaves were in a deadly cocktail that killed two Quebec sisters in Thailand in 2012. The beverage also contained cough syrup, coke and the insect repellent DEET.
Batchelor said lab tests are still ongoing to figure out exactly what was seized in Altona. Officers could lay more charges or be ordered to give it back, depending on what the tests find.
He said the apartment's proximity to the town's high school is especially concerning, given the quantity of edible drugs officers found.
"It's not as though this guy was [only] dealing in marijuana," Batchelor said. "When you're dealing with MDMA and [Xanax] and edibles and marijuana ... just a multitude of drugs, that's a real concern for a community our size, and I would say any community."
An Altona man was charged with several counts of drug trafficking charges, while a man from nearby Gretna, Man., was charged with impaired driving and possession of a controlled substance. Both have been released from custody.
Police said more charges are anticipated.
Brandon police seize meth
Meanwhile, Brandon police made a drug bust of their own this week.
Officers seized 200 grams of methamphetamine, $300 cash, an open box of 7-mm bullets and a magazine containing three 7-mm bullets during a traffic stop on Highway 10 Thursday evening, police said in a release Friday.
Police believe the drugs to have a street value of $60,000.
A 31-year-old man from Brandon was arrested and charged.