Police bust biggest marijuana growing operation in Taiwan's history

Police seize NT$230 million worth of pot plants in eastern Taiwan's Taitung City

Marijuana field found by police.

Marijuana field found by police. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Police raided the largest marijuana growing operation in Taiwan's history in Taitung City earlier this month, including 794 cannabis plants, each of which grew to about two meters in height, and were valued at a market price of over NT$200 million, reported CNA.

The Taitung investigative team of the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) recently received a tip that the telltale smell of marijuana had been emanating from what was supposed to be a "betel leaf garden" under Fengyuan Bridge in Taitung City. Team members disguised themselves as farmers, surveilled the field, and noticed that the smell of the so-called "betel leaf plant"s was very similar to that of marijuana plants.

After searching for and tracking the growers, the CGA set up a special team, in coordination with the Taitung County Police Bureau and Gusheng Precinct of the Kaohsiung Police Department, to investigate the marijuana growing operation and report their findings to the Taitung District Prosecutor's Office. On Dec. 3, a team of 10 officers was mobilized to raid the field.

Stacks of pot plants seized. (CNA image)

When police arrived, they found a 60-year-old male suspect surnamed Chang (張) adding fertilizer to the field. When they closed in on the field, they were shocked by what they described as a "marijuana forest," and said that they had "never seen such tall marijuana plants in such a long time."

In Field No. 1 of the betel leaf garden, all of the plants, other than a few banana trees used for cover, were in fact marijuana plants. A total of 794 cannabis plants were seized, with many exceeding two meters in height, as well as 10 bags of dried marijuana leaves and two packages of marijuana buds.

At a press conference, Wang Tien-sheng (王添盛), Chief Prosecutor of the Taiwan High Prosecutor's Office, said the seizure of the cannabis field was "unprecedentedly huge." He thanked the CGA for helping to uncover this illegal operation.

Stack of dried pot plants seized. (CNA image)

Wang said that marijuana has a serious impact on human health and as a category 2 narcotic, these plants would have caused great harm to Taiwan's society. Wang estimated that there were enough plants to supply hundreds of thousands of buyers, and added that it was fortunate that they were seized in a timely fashion to avoid poisoning Taiwanese citizens.

Wang said that, when mixed with other crops on farmland, it not easy to detect and seize. Therefore, he asked that citizens stay vigilant and report any suspect plants to authorities.

Detective Kao Chuan-sheng (高傳勝) said the marijuana plants seized were ready to be harvested and each of the 794 plants would yield about 300 grams of cannabis leaves. At a price of NT$1,000 (US$32) per gram, this equates to a street value of well over NT$230 million.

Chang confessed that he had rented the betel leaf field from a farmer six months ago and has been growing marijuana on the site for about four months. Police are charging Chang and his alleged accomplice, a 68-year-old man surnamed Chen (陳) with violating the Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act (毒品危害防制條例), reported SET News.

Unlike certain U.S. states and some Western countries where it is allowed for medical or recreational purposes, marijuana is still an illegal drug in Taiwan. Due to a spate of arrests of Americans for possession of marijuana in Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan (U.S. de facto embassy in the country) in March of last year posted a reminder to American citizens "that penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs (including marijuana) in Taiwan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines."

Man standing next to image of actual size of a plant that was over 230 cm tall. (CNA image)