Jailed American’s Family Pleads to US, Myanmar Govts in Hemp Case

By The Irrawaddy 14 June 2019

YANGON—The family of US citizen John Frederic Todoroki, who was accused of growing marijuana in Mandalay’s Nganzun Township, has appealed to the Myanmar government for help, pleading that Todoroki only tried to help Myanmar farmers growing industrial hemp and did not commit any drug-related crimes.

The family sent the letters to Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and Mandalay Region Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung on June 12, as well as to U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and U.S. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Todoroki, 63, was arrested with fellow III M Global Nutraceutical employees Ko Shane Latt, 37, and Ma Shunlae Myat Noe, 23, on April 24 under the Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Law for allegedly operating a marijuana plantation in Myotha Industrial Park in  Myinchan Township, Mandalay Region. They were placed in Myin Gyan Prison and their trial is ongoing.

The family’s letters were shared with the media during a press conference held by the team of lawyers representing the accused in Yangon on Friday.

U Thein Than Oo, one of the defense lawyers, said the case has occurred only because of widespread misunderstandings of cannabis, a genus of plant, and marijuana, a drug derived from plants within the genus, and that his client had been growing an industrial, non-psychoactive form of cannabis legally for 10 months.

“It is important that the government look into the family’s appeal letters,” he said, noting that it is the first ever case of its kind in Myanmar.

According to the 1993 Myanmar Narcotics Law, cannabis cannot legally be grown.

Growing hemp, a plant in the genus cannabis, as an industrial fiber became legal in the U.S. in December, but it is still considered illegal in Myanmar. But, the lawyer said, “such a law should be in consideration for amendment.”

If hemp becomes legal under Myanmar law, he said, it would also help a lot of farmers.

Ann Todoroki, the wife of the accused, said in her letter that her imprisoned husband has suffered from constant heat stroke and high blood pressure since his detention.

“At his age and health he won’t survive. Nobody in the country is taking accountability or responsibility. He went over to Myanmar to help the country and is now being prosecuted, unjustly. It is clear that the company received permission to grow industrial hemp. I respectfully ask you to help me,” she wrote in the appeal letter to the Myanmar president.

Todoroki is one of 20 outside consultants from the U.S., the U.K., Brazil and Germany, his wife wrote, “hired as a consultant for expertise in construction, water irrigation and drought mitigation for the research and development project in an industrial park known as MMID.”

She wrote that Todoroki “believes that the rural farmer can make much more than they presently are. The company is a foreign direct investment for Myanmar offering higher paying job opportunities and development of the region. He is helping the community immensely by pushing for the highest paid wages in the region nearly doubling and tripling in many cases.”

The lawyers said they are now in contact with the family and better able to get a complete picture of the case.

U Thein Than Oo said Todoroki helps Myanmar by sharing agricultural expertise with farmers, in a way helping to elevate living conditions, and so his work was of “mutual benefit.”

A bad consequence of this case is that it “shocks the investment community and damages the reputation of the country,” since the government had permitted the company to grow hemp in some 50 acres of land near Mandalay, Myanmar’s cultural capital, he said.

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