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Gangs preparing for pot legalization by hooking users on meth

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WATCH: The pending legalization of marijuana may indirectly be driving up meth additiction as drug dealers look to create new markets. Global's Brittany Greenslade reports – Jan 12, 2018

The legalization of marijuana is just months away but it’s a date gangs have apparently been preparing years for.

When pot becomes legal on July 1, it means drug dealers will lose a piece of their market. Those who work closely with former gang members and drug users said it’s pushed those dealers to hook users on harder drugs, like meth, to try to find another profit avenue.

READ MORE: ‘Meth has become the new alcohol’: Experts say more resources needed to cope with crisis

“They’ve been very strategic about this,” Dawn Rodgers said.

Rodgers is one of the executive directors at Momentum Centre. The centre runs a reintegration program for highly incarcerated convicts who also struggle with addiction.

Former inmates in the program have told counsellors the same thing over and over again since 2012. Dealers are preying on pot users to push them towards more highly addictive and harder drugs.

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“With their pot, they’re handing out pills, meth… they’re handing out other stuff for free in order to help turn people into harder core addicts before the legalization of pot,” she said.

It’s a plan that seems to be playing out across Manitoba to expand sales.

“They are moving into Charleswood, they’re moving into all parts of the city,” she said. “They are getting it up north into as many communities as possible so they have a secured market.”

It appears to be working in Winnipeg. Winnipeg Police said between between 2012 and 2016 meth seizures skyrocketed 1,100 percent.

RELATED: Winnipeg police make multiple drug-related arrests

Former users said it isn’t surprising. Justin has been using drugs since he was a teen and has spent most of his adult life in and out of either treatment centers or jails.

“Drugs don’t discriminate,” said Justin Rivard.

For many of these men, the lowest points in their lives came when they got involved in meth.

“I started injecting crystal meth and painkillers at the same time,” former user Clint Sinclair said. “That was the bottom. That was the worst time in my life.”

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Now, through the help of Momentum Centre, men like Rivard and Sinclair are trying to use their experiences to help others and offering a warning of what going down the path of drugs can lead to.