An American and two others have been arrested by police after a raid of a 20-acre cannabis plantation in Myanmar, according to a report in The New York Times. The Myanmar Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control announced on Wednesday that John Fredric Todoroki, 63, an American, and two citizens of Myanmar, U Shein Latt, 37, and Ma Shun Le Myat Noe, 23 had been detained in the township of Ngazun on Monday. All have been charged with offenses that could lead to the death penalty. Police are still searching for a second American, Alexander Skemp Todoroki, 49. The relationship between the two Todorokis is not clear at this time.
The raid occurred after photos of the site, which was referred to as an “industrial hemp plantation,” were posted on social media by cannabis activist group the Mahar Legalization Movement Myanmar. The group praised the operation, saying it was the kind of foreign investment in agriculture needed by the Southeast Asian nation of more than 53 million people. The post garnered thousands of views including some by Myanmar law enforcement.
“We took action as soon as we saw the post on Facebook,” said police officer San Win in a phone interview.
Defendants Face the Death Penalty
The Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control announced that 350,000 cannabis plants, 600 pounds of cultivated marijuana, 840 pounds of seeds, and chemicals had been confiscated in the raid of the plantation, known as the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development. The three people arrested at the farm are facing charges including the production or distribution of psychotropic substances for sale, an offense subject to a 15-year minimum sentence, lifetime imprisonment, or the death penalty, according to government sentencing guidelines.
The group has also been charged with the cultivation of narcotic or psychotropic substances, punishable with a sentence of five to 10 years in prison, and drug trafficking, which carries a 10-year minimum prison term.
In August, the Mandalay regional government granted permission to III M Nutritional Medicine to grow medicinal hemp. An official with the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development has said that the three arrested people worked for the company.
Aung Say Toe, the founder of the Mahar Legalization Movement Myanmar, said that both marijuana and hemp are illegal in the country but called on the government to allow research into the medicinal use of cannabis.
“They are not cultivating secretly,” he said of the farm site. “Everyone could see it, and that’s why we could take photos and video of the plantation.”