Taiwan Customs seizes record haul of marijuana as checks on US, Canada flights tighten

Taiwan Customs seizes 37 kilos of marijuana worth nearly NT$150 million as inspections on US, Canada flights tighten

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Marijuana buds.

Marijuana buds. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- As inspections of passengers arriving from the U.S. and Canada have been tightened, Taiwan Customs officers seized from a passenger a record 37 kilograms of marijuana worth nearly NT$150 million (US$4.7 million).

The international section of the Criminal Investigation Bureau received a tip that a passenger surnamed Kuo (郭) was arriving on June 1 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on a flight from Los Angeles and was possibly smuggling drugs. As Kuo entered the passport control area of the airport at 5:00 p.m., aviation Police accompanied by an Interpol Officer intercepted him before he could pass through the checkpoint, reported China Times.

Once he was then taken to Customs for inspection, agents then discovered that his suitcase was chocked full of marijuana buds, which are a second-degree illegal narcotic in Taiwan. Agents seized 66 packets of marijuana buds weighing a total of 37 kilograms, a new record for cannabis seizures from an individual airport passenger smuggling the drug, reported Liberty Times.

According to a person familiar with the situation, officers originally thought Kuo would attempt to conceal the narcotics in a secret compartment in his suitcase, but instead, they were amazed to see that the packets were all clearly visible as soon as they opened it. In fact, every inch of space in the suitcase was tightly packed with marijuana buds.

Because the market price for marijuana buds is five times that of marijuana leaves, at NT$4 million per kilogram, 37 kilograms is worth approximately NT$148 million, according to Liberty Times.

As marijuana has been legalized in more than 10 US states such as California, Colorado, and Oregon, as well as in Canada, the US and Canada are no longer categorized by Taiwan as low-risk countries for drugs. As a consequence, Taiwan Customs has listed flights from the U.S. and Canada as "key drug detection flights" and has stepped up inspections of passengers arriving from these countries.

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 2017 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."