Big Player in American Pot: Chinese Mafias

ProPublica investigation looks at how they have begun dominating the illegal market
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2024 5:20 PM CDT
Big Player in American Pot: Chinese Mafias
Marijuana plants.   (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Even as legal marijuana becomes more common, the market for illegal pot thrives across the US. And as an investigation by ProPublica and the Frontier makes clear, that market is increasingly dominated by organized crime outfits from China. "The mobsters operate in a loose but disciplined confederation overseen from New York by mafias rooted in southern China," the story explains. They set up farms in states where marijuana cultivation is legal—the story focuses on Oklahoma in particular—and smuggle in Chinese immigrants from Mexico to work the high-security farms under abusive conditions. The pot is then sold across the US as the crime groups—generally known as "triads"—exploit gaps in state laws and steep taxes on the legal stuff in a lucrative and "massive black market." The marijuana operation, however, is just one facet of the story.

The huge cannabis profits have turned Chinese organized crime into a "global powerhouse," according to the story. In the last decade, for example, these mafias have become the primary money launderers for Latin American cartels that traffic in more dangerous drugs in the US such as fentanyl. And all this is happening as the zeal of federal prosecutors to handle any kind of marijuana case is waning, says former DEA official Ray Donovan. "They don't realize all the implications," he says. "Marijuana causes so much crime at the local level, gun violence in particular. The same groups selling thousands of pounds of marijuana are also laundering millions of dollars of fentanyl money. It's not just one-dimensional." Read the full story, which details how the triads operate on US soil. (Or read other longform recaps.)

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