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cannabis seed company owner arrested in thailand

American Arrested Over 20-Acre Cannabis Plantation in Myanmar

The farm, near Mandalay in central Myanmar, had been praised on Facebook by a group calling itself the Mahar Legalization Movement Myanmar, which wants the Burmese government to ease the heavy penalties it imposes on cannabis production and use.

The group approvingly posted photos of what it called an “industrial hemp plantation” run by foreigners — just the sort of agriculture it said the country needed. The post was viewed thousands of times on Facebook.

Among those viewers were the Myanmar police, who took a decidedly less-sanguine view. This week, a day after the post went up on Facebook, they arrested three people, including an American, accusing them of running an illegal marijuana operation.

The American, John Fredric Todoroki, 63, is being held along with two Burmese citizens, U Shein Latt, 37, and Ma Shun Le Myat Noe, 23. They were detained in the township of Ngazun. The police were still searching for another American, Alexander Skemp Todoroki, 49. It was unclear how the two Todorokis are related.

Myanmar’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control announced on Wednesday that two days before, it had seized 350,000 cannabis plants, 600 pounds of cultivated marijuana, 840 pounds of seeds and chemicals from the plantation, which surrounds a forest-green warehouse. Some of the plants, it said, were more than six feet tall.

“We took action as soon as we saw the post on Facebook,” a police officer, San Win, said in a phone interview. He said that the plants being grown at the plantation were illegal because hemp is related to marijuana.

The police have charged the group under the Anti-Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances Law, according to Officer San Win.

Aung Say Toe, the founder of the pro-legalization group, said that marijuana and hemp were both considered drugs under Myanmar law, but he urged the government to allow research into the use of cannabis in medicine.

“They are not cultivating secretly,” he said of those arrested. “Everyone could see it, and that’s why we could take photos and video of the plantation.”

A document from the Mandalay regional government had given permission in August to a company called III M Nutritional Medicine to grow and export medicinal hemp. An official at the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development, where the cannabis was being grown, confirmed that the three people arrested had been part of that company.

One of the charges the group faces — the production or distribution of psychotropic substances for sale — could result in a 15-year minimum sentence, lifetime imprisonment or the death penalty, according to Myanmar sentencing guidelines.

Another charge — the cultivation of narcotic or psychotropic substances — could be punished with a sentence of five to 10 years in prison. A third charge — the trafficking of drugs — can be punished by a 10-year minimum sentence.

Neighboring countries in Southeast Asia also punish illegal drug production and use with lengthy prison sentences. In what it called a surprise “New Year’s gift,” however, Thailand’s government legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in December.

Variety Jones, Alleged Silk Road Mentor, Arrested in Thailand

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More than two years after Ross Ulbricht was arrested in a San Francisco and accused of creating and running the Dark Web drug bazaar known as the Silk Road, a manhunt on the other side of the world has found the man believed to be Ulbricht's closest adviser and mentor: Variety Jones.

On Friday evening, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint against Roger Thomas Clark, a 54-year-old Canadian who has been arrested in Thailand through a joint operation of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local Thai police. He's been charged with narcotics trafficking and money laundering, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, and now faces extradition to the U.S. "The arrest of Roger Thomas Clark shows again that conducting criminal activities on the Dark Web does not keep a criminal out of law enforcement’s reach," FBI assistant director Diego Rodriguez wrote in a statement. "Clark may have thought residing in Thailand would keep him out of reach of U.S authorities, but our international partnerships have proven him wrong. We thank our law enforcement partners who have worked with the FBI on this case.”

The figure of the then-still-at-large Variety Jones loomed over the trial of Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of creating and running the Silk Road in February. In his journal, Ulbricht described Jones, now believed to be Clark, as the most important figure on the drug market's payroll, a consigliere as much as an employee. Ulbricht credited Jones for his work as a coder, as a security auditor for the site, as a financial adviser, and even as a public relations manager.

“[He] was the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far,” Ulbricht wrote of Jones, also sometimes known as Cimon or the Plural of Mongoose, in a 2011 entry in his journal. "He has helped me better interact with the community around Silk Road, delivering proclamations, handling troublesome characters, running a sale, changing my name, devising rules, and on and on. He also helped me get my head straight regarding legal protection, cover stories, devising a will, finding a successor, and so on. He’s been a real mentor."

In fact, it was Jones who came up with Ulbricht's "Dread Pirate Roberts" pseudonym, a clever nickname designed to give the impression that the site had a changing group of leaders passing down that mantle, an allusion to the changing identity of a character in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. "“You need to change your name from Admin, to Dread Pirate Roberts,” Jones wrote in an early 2012 chat with Ulbricht. He said that he had given the idea 12 hours of serious thought. “Start the legend now. Clear your old trail – to be honest, as tight as you play things, you are the weak link from. [previous] contacts.”

After a long silence following the Silk Road's takedown, someone claiming to be Variety Jones surfaced on a cannabis forum in September, writing that he had been hunted by a corrupt FBI agent and that he planned to turn himself in. The post told an elaborate, unverified story of the crooked agent seeking a key to a wallet containing millions of dollars worth of Silk Road bitcoins, which he needed Jones' help to find. Jones gave no evidence for those claims, and, given his history of creating deceptive cover stories, it could easily be a total fabrication. An FBI spokesperson told WIRED that, following an internal investigation, "there has been no confirmation of wrongdoing."