July 13, 2009 – Earlier this year, Jilin police made the largest drug bust in the history of the People’s Republic of China when they captured 53 suspects and seized 1.4 metric tons of refined marijuana and 6.2 tons of semi-processed marijuana from a growing, manufacture, and distribution operation that spanned Jilin, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Henan. More than 600 hectares of hemp were cultivated for use in the drug operation.
The news hit the mainland media at the beginning of June, but police had been making arrests for months beforehand.
Translated below is an article from Oriental Outlook that examines one growing operation caught in the bust. Twelve related familes in rural Jilin chose to grow hemp because it was much more lucrative than corn. They then partnered with contacts from Xinjiang to ship refined marijuana out west.
The article seems to suggest that it was the corrupting influence of these outsiders that enticed local Jilin farmers to break the law, but it also acknowledges that the lack of a legal distinction between industrial and pharmacological hemp makes it difficult to determine when the law was actually broken.
Xinhua’s English-language report referred to “semi-finished marijuana joints,” but this article makes it seem like the farmers were producing hashish. Below, the word 大麻 is translated as “hemp” for the crop and “marijuana” for the drug, according to context.
The Hemp Farmers
by Lui Zhiming / OO
Even awaiting punishment, Zhang Yingnan denies that she knew that hemp was a drug, although she does admit that her family broke the law: The police say that they have recordings of our growing, from the seedlings through the harvest. Why didn’t they stop us sooner?
The biggest bust the Jilin police made in the process of conducting the 2008 “#6″ drug case was 1.4 tons of refined marijuana and 6.2 tons of semi-processed marijuana. “The amount of marijuana seized in the case set a national record.”
But that was certainly not the whole story about “China’s biggest marijuana case.” From planting and harvesting to processing and selling, a wide expanse of farmland totalling more than 600 hectares was devoted to hemp cultivation. The operators were all ordinary local farmers: this is without a doubt one of the most striking aspects of the case.
Zhang You’s family of growers
Looking back on how it all started, the seeds of the family’s changing fortunes were planted as early as 1999. That year, Zhang Yingnan, a girl of only 17, went from Changling to Changchun in search of work. She met a young man from Xinjiang named Alim who had been selling barbecued mutton on the streets of Chongqing. They fell in love and got married in 2001. Zhang was from the village of Caolaofu in the town of Yongjiu in Changling County, Jilin; Alim came from Moyu County in the city of Hotan, Xinjiang. Their union was not well-received at first by their families.
Li Wenfeng, captain of the third detachment of the Jilin Public Security Department Narcotics Bureau, told Oriental Outlook that in a statement given at the detention center by Zhang’s mother, Sun Shuxia, she said she had initially objected to Zhang and Alim getting together: “I wouldn’t let him in the house.” And when Alim eventually did come over, she basically ignored him:. “Later on when the matter was settled, she had no choice but to accept it,” but in light of the “disaster” that Alim later brought upon the Sun household, Sun Shuxia in her prison cell is fraught with remorse.
Now fifty, Sun was picked up by police on January 11, 2009 on suspicion of drug manufacture, and her husband Zhang You was arrested when he returned home the following day on suspicion of manufacture and sale of drugs. On Feburary 18, Zhang Yingnan’s younger brother Zhang Tienan, who had been staying at home following his parents’ arrest, was detained at the Yongjiu police station on suspicion of “drug trafficking” when he came to take care of some loan documents, and he was subsequently taken away by Changling narcotics officers. Prior to those arrests, police had arrested Alim after lengthy surveillance on January 9 in Changchun as he was conducting a drug deal. On the same day, Zhang Yingnan was arrested at her home in Changchun. Because their two young children needed to be looked after, she was released on bail the next day.
Zhang Yingnan’s 51-year-old father Zhang You played a central role in the case: out of all of the growers involved in the marijuana case, within Changlin at least he was the very first.
At her parents home in Caolaofu on June 20, Zhang Yingnan told this magazine that her father began planting marijuana in the spring of 2007. He planted four or five mu (0.26-0.33 hectares), and when he took in the harvest of his first planting that fall, “with no experience and no idea how to sift it, we didn’t sift out much, only a little over five kilos.” In 2008, Zhang planted the same area, but with his experience of the first time, he was able to end up with more processed marijuana. When the police broke the case, they caught twelve families of growers in Changling County, including Zhang You’s. The families were distributed in the villages of Caolaofu and Liuhao in Yongjiu, and Zhangsanya in Baoxiang, Sanxian.
These twelve households were connected by special relationships. Caolaofu was home to three families of growers involved in the case — Zhang You’s cousin Zhang Wen and the family of Zhang Wen’s son-in-law; the three families in Liuhao were relatives of Zhang You as well, including another son-in-law of Zhang Wen. In Zhangsanya, where Sun Shuxia’s family lives, Sun’s parents and her brothers and sisters were all involved in the case.
Family-style drug production
Another key player in the marijuana case was Alim, the thirty-one-year-old man from Xinjiang who was initially disliked by his mother-in-law.
Zhang Yingnan told the magazine that from the time they got married until 2005, Alim sold barbecued mutton in Changchun, after which he went back home to Xinjiang. In 2007, the year his father-in-law started planting hemp, he came back to Jilin for a little while: “After we sold the few kilos the family had, he went back….he wasn’t like other people, selling the stuff 365 days a year.” In July, 2008, Zhang Yingnan went back with her husband to Jilin: “We had planned to go back to Xinjiang in September when the kids started school, but my mother kept crying all the time so we didn’t go back.” They rented an apartment on Yongchun Road in Changchun and lived there with their son and daughter, who went to school in the city.
Zhang Yingnan returned to Caolaofu where she and her children lived with her sister-in-law Liu Min, who had a four-year-old son. When other family members were arrested, the two women could look after each other by living together. Zhang Yingnan is remorseful: “I admit that we broke the law. We’ll make it up however we need to, but they’ve been locked up for almost half a year. I hope that the judgment will come soon.”
“My file says that I made my parents do it, and my husband sold it for them. The stuff was there because we told them to plant it and said we’d sell it,” Zhang told the magazine. She admitted that her parents had sold the processed marijuana to Alim, who then resold it to other people in Changchun.
Alim and other non-locals in Changchun played key roles in the case.
Qi Yang, deputy chief of the police battalion in Changling, told the magazine that the flow of marijuana in this case was largely in the direction of Xinjiang. Jilin shipped the product, some of it directly and some indirectly through Gansu and Chongqing: “Behind Zhang You and Alim was a massive network of drug growers, processors, and dealers. Zhang You and the other family growers were only at one end of this network. Once the hemp was harvested, the growers sold it to people like Alim, and after several more stages it reached Xinjiang.” Of the fifty-three suspects ultimately detained by police, twenty-eight were from Xinjiang.
Qi was the first to find evidence that Changling farmers were growing marijuana. In April 2008, after an informant planted in the area reported to the police that three households in the village of Liuhao, Yongjiu, were growing hemp, Qi immediately organized an investigation and eventually learned that Zhang You was growing it in Caolaofu as well: “The informant told me that his son-in-law from Xinjiang was selling lamb sticks in Changchun, and after the harvest, the he would ship it in two suitcases and sell it in Xinjiang.” The police quickly discovered that Zhang You’s relatives in Zhangsanya were also growing hemp.
“The growing was done family-style: Zhang You did it first one year, and when he discovered that growing hemp was more lucrative than growing corn, he had his relatives do it too,” Qi explained to the magazine. “The profit for growing hemp is pretty high. Plant one shang (two thirds of a hectare)* of corn, subtract out the planting and fertilizer, and you’re left with around ten thousand yuan. Plant a hectare of hemp, and at three to four hundred yuan a kilo, one hectare gets you several dozen kilos, which can sell for thirty or forty thousand. If you process it right, you can get even more.”
A defense pact
Take a mid-size bus at the North Station in Changchun and ride down a narrow road toward the northwest, and you’ll reach Changling in about three hours. The town of Yongjiu is located in between Changling and Changchun. A taxi from Yongjiu follows an even narrower country road to the west for about 20 km before reaching the village of Caolaofu. Situated about three or four kilometers from the border between Yongjiu and Baoxiang, Sanxian is the village of Zhangsanya. The two days before this reporter arrived in these villages, the region went through a hailstorm that turned the fields into an endless expanse of corn seedlings flattened by hailstones.
Upon realizing that the magazine had sent a reporter to Zhangsanya, four women surrounded me: Zhang Yingnan’s aunt, her mother’s two sisters-in-law, and the wife of Sun Hongchen, Sun Shuxia’s uncle. Their families had planted several mu of hemp last year. Sun Hongchen, 55 years old, had gone on the lam. Sun Yingnan’s oldest uncle had a twenty-four-year-old son, Zhang Jianwei, who had originally planned to get married in February but was detained on January 11 instead and is still being held at the Changling detention center. Sun Yingnan’s maternal grandfather Sun Hong’en, 76, was the oldest of the growers. Because of his age, the police did not arrest him, but watching his children and close relatives get wrapped up in the case was too much for him and he died of illness shortly thereafter.
The women remaining at home were fairly anxious: even though the police believed that every family member had been involved in drug growing or processing, they had only selected one person in each family to be the “prime suspect,” with the exception of Zhang You’s family. The women said, “We didn’t know that planting that stuff was illegal,” they “were only looking for a way to make some money,” and “they were common hemp seeds found in the northeast that can be pressed for oil. There are often people in the village who buy the stuff.” But in the opinion of Qi Yang of the Changling police, “They knew full well that growing marijuana is illegal. It was organized and they set up a defense pact. Otherwise, why would they have conducted harvesting and processing in secret? This was clan-style growing, a setup that made it easy to ensure confidentiality and staying on-message.”
Even awaiting punishment, Zhang Yingnan denied that she knew that hemp was a drug, although she does admit that her family broke the law: “The police say that they have recordings of our growing, from the seedlings through the harvest. Why didn’t they stop us sooner?” “Now the TV and newspapers are all reporting that it’s drugs, but why didn’t anyone say it was drugs before?”
Like some of the other farmers implicated in the case, Zhang Yingnan says that what her family and relatives planted was ordinary hemp, which is fairly common in the northeast: “Everyone in the village could sign on as a witness.” After the harvest, hemp seeds can be fed to chickens and other fowl, or pressed into oil, and the outer fibers can be stripped and made into rope. “I’ve heard people say that top-grade hemp can get more than fifty kilos a mu, but the type we planted didn’t even get five kilos after processing.” Processing was not complicated. Zhang explained that after beating out the seeds and then sifting out the husks, they would obtain a flour-like substance. That was marijuana.
What sort of hemp were the farmers growing? This magazine asked several narcotics officers, whose descriptions were not entirely in sync. Liu Yongli, head of the Narcotics Squad for Jilin Province, said that hemp is both an economic crop and a drug crop, and is distinguished from the opium poppy, which is only cultivated for its use as a drugs. Hemp is divided by geographic location into Indian hemp, Xinjiang hemp, and northeastern rope hemp. They can all be used in drug manufacture but differ in their THC content. “The variety grown in Jilin this time was basically Xinjiang hemp.”
But Li Wenfeng, captain of the third narcotics detachment, told the magazine, “There’s no difference between marijuana and rope hemp. What’s important is whether they were deliberately using it to manufacture drugs.”
“There’s no legal division between rope hemp and marijuana,” said Qi Yang of the Changling PSB. “Why we didn’t uproot it when we first discovered it is connected to that. We immediately considered the possibility that the hemp was raw material for drugs, but we also had to consider that we already knew that non-locals were participating and we needed to break the case. If we dug up the crops for being illegal drug crops, although that would allow the farmers to be dealt with under public security without being charged with a crime, it would cut the case short.” Qi admits that to a certain degree, “the farmers were sacrificed in the course of the case.”
This was not the first time that marijuana growing has turned up in Jilin. Liu Yongli told the magazine that in 2008, someone reported that a farming household was growing marijuana in Baicheng, but upon investigation they were found to be growing it as an economic crop for industrial use: a company harvested it before THC had been produced and used it to manufacture rope. Li Wenfeng said that in 2005, there was another marijuana case in Changling in which police seized a truck of unprocessed marijuana amounting to twenty tons, but because of inexperience they were unable to pursue the investigation any further. Even in the course of breaking the “#6″ case, the Yushu police force was dubious about Li Wenfeng because they had handled a marijuana case a few years back: “If you mishandle it, the growers will sue you.”
“Case #6″ was different. The growers were caught red-handed, and according to materials provided by the police, the entire investigation found farmers in Yushu, Nong’an, Jiutai, Dehui, Jilin, and Gongzhuling who “grew more than 600 hectares of hemp between June 2008 and April 2009.”
“Let my son come home soon”
On June 24, in the village of Hongzimiao in Yushu’s Enyu township, only Gao Puwen’s 75-year-old mother Chen Wenzhen was at home. A small hamlet a little more than ten kilometers down the road outside the city, it is home to fifty or sixty households, most of which have new fired-brick homes. Gao’s house in the southwest corner is an exception: before the police took him away, the 36-year-old bachelor lived with his mother in a single story building built of mud bricks.
Chen Wenzhen remembers very clearly that her son was taken away by the police on the night of the second day of the third lunar month, which would be March 28 according to the solar calendar. The Gao family has seven mu of land, and in 2008, five mu was given over to hemp cultivation. When Gao was arrested, the crop had been harvested and the seeds had just been beaten out: “We didn’t even have time to sift out the husks before the police took the entire family away.” Chen believes that after Cai Chunmin was picked up off the street, he incriminated her son. The Gao and Cai families are related: Chen’s husband was an uncle to Cai’s wife. The Cai family lives in Yushu: “They knew we were poor, so they’d often call us up and have Xiao Wen go help them out with upholstering work.” Last year, Cai told Gao, “Your family can grow hemp,” and provided them with seeds.
After a long-term illness, Chen’s husband had just passed away the year before. She and her son Xiao Wen (Gao Puwen) live together, and another son had been living with his in-laws in a village a few kilometers away but had just moved back to Hongmiaozi to have an easier time looking after the fields. But he has still neglected his mother. Chen is in poor health, and after Xiao Wen was taken away, she and Chen Chunmin’s wife went to the Changling detention center but were unable to see him. Worried, she cried out to this reporter, “Can you help my son to come home soon?”
That same evening, in an ordinary residence in Yushu, Cai Chunmin’s wife Yao Lubo could not hide her worries and anxiety for her husband. Cai is 37 and had once worked in a vegetable oil plant. After he was laid off, the two of them had gone to Changchun to run a flour store, and then had returned to Yushu, where Cai began working in the storm window business. He was picked up by police on March 28, and his Saibao* was confiscated. As for whether her husband was involved in the marijuana case, Yao said she did not know.
“You can see this stuff all over the place in the fields. Isn’t it just a crop?” Yao said. “If the people knew it was drugs, would they still do it?” When the magazine spoke to her, she had just spent the afternoon at home crying because a CCTV program had just reported on the case. “They said it was the biggest case? It’s really scary.” To Yao, her husband is a “dutiful, upright, and kind person, very timid, never getting into trouble, and is quite proud.” “When he comes back, how will he face his family?”
This magazine learned from the police that Cai had sent marijuana directly to Xinjiang by car, and had also personally grown it. His father, Cai Gui, was also a grower. In March, Cai Chunming gave fifty kilos of marijuana to a Xinjiang man named Patigul in Urumqi, and when Cai and Gao Puwen were caught, the police also seized twenty kilos of refined marijuana.
by Joel Martinsen. Source.