MANDALAY—A legal adviser for a U.S. citizen detained on suspicion of illegally growing cannabis said his client was in fact growing industrial hemp with permission from the regional government.
“The plantation was not secret. It was officially approved by the government and established with the agreement of Myotha Industrial Zone as a test plantation,” said U Khin Maung Than, legal adviser to III M Global Nutraceutical Company, after a court session on Tuesday.
U.S. citizen John Fredric 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 Anti-Narcotics Law for allegedly operating a marijuana plantation in Myotha Industrial Park of Myinchan District, Mandalay Division.
Authorities are seeking another American, Alexander Skemp Todoroki, 49, in connection with the case. He is outside the country and has yet to appear in court.
The three were arrested after an April Facebook post about the alleged marijuana plantation was widely circulated among Myanmar users of the social media platform.
“The incident happened because of the posts shared on Facebook. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control need to do more research and investigation, because many countries accept and permit the cultivation of industrial hemp,” he added.
The Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) announced that it was responsible for the arrests at the 20-acre plantation following the bust.
The CCDAC said it had seized over 300,000 marijuana plants, 380 kg of marijuana seeds, formic acid, acetone, acetonitrile concort water, methonal liquid, 270.5 kg of dried marijuana and related chemicals and materials.
On the same day, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the investigation team had found hemp-like plants believed to have the same content as marijuana, and that some chemicals and materials had been seized. It said the plantation appeared to be intended to produce treatments for cancer sufferers.
The legal adviser told the media that the authorities needed to do more research on the plants to determine whether they are hemp or marijuana plants. Both hemp and marijuana are strains of the cannabis plant species, but only marijuana has sufficient levels of psychoactive chemicals to produce the drug marijuana.
“They were being sued under the Anti-Narcotics Law based on these hemp plants, which the police said are [a strain of] the cannabis species. The police and the authorities should know about the strains and the concentrations of the chemicals [they contain] and will need expert research on these plants,” said U Khin Maung Than.
“Moreover, our country has no laws for suing someone who plants industrial hemp. The law only prohibits planting cannabis that can be used as a drug,” he added.
The three detainees were taken from Myinchan Prison to the court in Ngazun Township on Tuesday, where prosecutors requested they be held in remand for two weeks. The first hearing in their trial was scheduled for May 21 at Myinchan District Court.
“We hope they will be released soon and that the authorities will learn more about hemp, which could benefit farmers,” the lawyer said.
About 60 acres of land for the plantation were leased from Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development Public Co., Ltd (MMID) by U.S. citizens John Fredric, Thomas and Alexander Skemp.