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Do the Chinese really run America’s illegal weed market?

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A joint law enforcement task force discovered nearly 9,000 pounds of cannabis with an estimated value of nearly $15 million in a suburban neighborhood in Antioch, California, just days before Christmas. The California Department of Marijuana Control suspected that the four bedroom homes searched 45 minutes outside of San Francisco had links to China.

The production of illegal marijuana in the United States has long been associated with Mexican cartels, which import, grow and distribute illegal cannabis. However, in recent years, Chinese investors, owners, and workers have emerged as a new source of financing and employment for illegal marijuana production.

Huge money from Chinese investors

State law enforcement officials, experts in the international drug trade, economists, and lawmakers have revealed that the number of farms receiving funding from sources could be It belongs to the Chinese investors Or owners has increased significantly. Chinese owners and workers are now more prominent on illegal farms in California, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

The Oklahoma Narcotics Bureau has notified nearly 3,000 of the state’s roughly 7,000 licensed marijuana farms for suspicious activity in the past year. These farms are currently under investigation for allegedly obtaining licenses through fraudulent means and selling their produce on the illegal market, according to Mark Woodward, a spokesperson for the bureau.

According to the agency, nearly 2,000 farms have ties to China, with the state providing either workers, financing, or both. Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Narcotics Bureau, said that of the more than 800 farms the agency has closed down due to illegal operations in the past two years, about 75 percent have ties to China. Woodward added that he would say with confidence that we have linked more than 600 farms to Chinese investors and organized crime, with some linking back to China.

Law enforcement officials in southern Oregon reported that as many as 20 different nationalities were involved in illegal growth in the area in 2021. However, increased Chinese funding and the potential influence of the Chinese Communist Party has raised concerns among lawmakers and law enforcement experts.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a former attorney general and co-chair of the congressional cannabis group, told POLITICO that the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party has been noticed recently. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry is not immune from these methods. Pointing to a Chinese observation balloon spotted over Montana in early February, Joyce added, “Do we want to encourage an environment in which marijuana is grown with proper safeguards, or do we continue to ignore the problem and allow illegal operations like this to flourish?”

Not much is known

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Chinese-funded cannabis cultivation. It is unclear whether the funding comes from groups with ties to the Communist Party and how much cannabis produced through these plants is sold within the United States or exported. Bezel The involvement of Chinese organized crime syndicates In the cultivation of American hemp is also unknown. Vanda Philbab Brown, director of the Armed Non-State Actors Initiative and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, states that the Chinese government has a complex relationship with organized crime.

Although the Chinese Communist Party has a tough stance on drugs, the Triads, which run global crime networks that distribute chemicals needed to manufacture methamphetamine and fentanyl, often favor the Chinese Communist Party by acting as outlaw enforcers for the government, according to Philipp Brown. . The CCP, in turn, usually allows them to continue their operations but does not control them.

Liu Bingyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., told POLITICO that the Chinese government has zero tolerance for drugs and is actively combating drug production, trafficking, and other drug-related crimes. Liu added that the Chinese government encourages citizens to avoid participating in illegal or criminal activities abroad.

Experts, including Felbab-Brown, cautioned that there is still much unknown about the possible involvement of the Chinese triads in cannabis production. “There are different actors in China that are involved in drug trafficking,” said Philbab Brown, emphasizing that the same could also apply to drug operations in the United States, which can include large-scale organized crime operations and small family-run businesses. . “It is necessary to exercise caution and conduct a thorough investigation into the motives behind these operations,” she added.

The boom in the illicit cannabis market

Illegal cannabis production is growing in the United States, with approximately 75 percent of the $100 billion cannabis market in the country remaining illegal. Of this illegal market, about two-thirds of the cannabis is grown domestically. Cannabis industry analyst Whitney Economics provided data on this topic.

The amount of marijuana seized at the country’s borders by US Border Patrol has fallen sharply from £582,000 in 2020 to £155,000 in 2022. Mandarin-language ads recruit Chinese workers for illegal growth in Oklahoma, California and other locations.

Mandarin-language websites and social media apps have been used to hire Chinese workers to illegally grow cannabis across the United States. In California, Chinese triads have been involved in illicit cannabis production for years, with a recent increase in funding and Chinese actors. Some of the Chinese-funded plants the CAA has faced are run by Chinese triads, but not all.

NBC and Searchlight New Mexico investigations in 2022 and 2020, respectively, revealed that Chinese workers travel to illegal growth areas in California and New Mexico from other cities after viewing Mandarin-language advertisements.

According to Woodward, similar advertisements lured workers to illegal farms in Oklahoma. Philbab Brown commented that the emergence of Chinese financing of illegal cannabis is a new development that challenges the interests of Mexican drug cartels. She noted that it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue and how it will affect the relationship between Chinese and Mexican criminal organizations.


The issue of Chinese funding in the illegal cannabis industry in the United States has raised concerns among lawmakers, law enforcement officials and experts. While much is still unknown about the extent of China’s involvement, evidence suggests that Chinese investors and organized crime syndicates are linked to many illegal activities across the country. The situation raises complex questions about drug policy, criminal activity, and international relations and scrutiny is likely to continue in the coming years.

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