TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taoyuan District Court has handed down prison sentences to eight people following Taiwan’s biggest-ever marijuana bust.
Two Taiwan nationals said to be the head of the growing and distribution operation received prison sentences of 11 and 9 years. Six Indonesian migrant workers also involved in the operation received two-year prison sentences and deportation orders upon their release.
Taoyuan prosecutors seized the marijuana from a field next to an army base in Longtan District in September 2022. They confiscated 4,218 marijuana plants in total with a market value of more than NT$1.26 billion (about US$40 million).
The trial revealed the two Taiwanese involved in the operation had legal jobs, but began to grow the marijuana to earn extra money. They obtained the marijuana seeds from a third party, now deceased, and employed six migrant workers to provide manual labor.
The trial revealed that some of the migrant workers believed they were engaging in legal gardening work. After discovering there were marijuana plants, they were not able to easily find other employment that would continue to allow them to support their families back home.
The plant had not been harvested at the time of seizure, so there were no proceeds to be confiscated. One of the Taiwanese sentenced was on a monthly salary and earned nearly NT$500,000 in total, which will be confiscated according to the law.
Of the migrant workers, three were employed for less than a month and likewise received no income. The other three received salaries but were providing for their low-income families in Indonesia, and may not have been aware the crop was marijuana, so the full amount of their salaries would not be confiscated, according to the verdict.
Cannabis is illegal in Taiwan, and the manufacturing, transporting, or selling it is punishable by up to lifetime imprisonment by law. Under Taiwan law, it is in the same class as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
In 2022, Taiwan reduced the penalty for growing marijuana for personal use from five years to one year, and lowered the fine from NT$5 million to NT$1 million.
Despite this, a lack of social awareness of marijuana and its use in Taiwan means it remains highly taboo, a Taiwanese lawyer, Zoe Lee (李菁琪), told the Hong Kong free press in 2021. “All education basically teach(es) us that weed is a kind of drug and it will poison you and if you start (using) weed right now, the next day, you’ll start using heroin, and you’ll start to rob people, you’ll start killing for money, then you’ll have more money to buy more drugs,” she said.