RIGA - The Latvian State Police have detained the ringleaders of a massive marijuana farming operation in what has become the largest marijuana bust in Latvian history.
The seizure of at least 500,000 lats (711,400 euros) worth of drugs, which took place in Talsi region in Western Latvia on Nov. 6, was the latest in a string of major drug busts this fall. There has been a significant increase in marijuana busts in Latvia over the past three months, including major busts in both September and October.
The Talsi marijuana growing operation was based in a rural property of 100 square meters, which included a marijuana farm, a drying house, powerful lighting, heating and ventilation equipment, as well as special pumps for watering the plants.
"It cost 60,000 lats to build [the facility] and the technical arrangements are perfect," acting Customs Criminal Board chief Marians Burijs told the press. The operation had been running successfully for some time before it was discovered.
Police found 1,905 marijuana plants, 18 kilograms of marijuana, and 5.3 kilograms of hashish at the site. In total, this amounts to a whopping 150 kilograms of undried marijuana. Police claim the drugs were intended for sale outside of Latvia. The street value of the drugs seized is approximately half a million lats.
Three male suspects, all in their late thirties, have been detained by the police. A criminal proceeding has been initiated over the illegal production, purchase, possession and transportation of drugs, with intent to sell, by an organized group of perpetrators.
Under Latvian Criminal Law, the suspects could be facing a jail term lasting from eight to 15 years, along with confiscation of property and an additional three years under police supervision.
The investigation continues, and several more suspects might be detained in the case.
On behalf of the Latvian State Police, Cintija Virse told The Baltic Times that "there has not been an increase in marijuana users in Latvia."
She added that in the grander scheme of things, "growing marijuana in Latvia is not a widespread problem, [because] actually, Latvia is too small for such activities 's police can react and stop their activities easily."
Despite these assurances, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the past few months. In September of this year, the Latvian police seized approximately 12,600 lats worth of marijuana from a rurally based grow-op in the Valmiera district, in north-eastern Latvia.
Soon after in October, 400,000 lats worth of various drugs, including marijuana, were seized at a suspect's residence in the south-eastern Latvian city of Jekabpils. This suggests that the Latvian State police have been working harder in recent months to make the eradication of marijuana in Latvia a priority.
However, according to Latvian State Police spokesperson Cintija Virse, it is a "coincidence" that so many drug busts have taken place in the past three months.
"When the police receive information [about a drug operation], they work on it," Virse said.
Virse added that, "This weekend [Nov. 8-9] we also found marijuana 's approximately two kilos."
Over the past four years, Latvian law enforcement agencies have discovered a handful of major marijuana growing operations. In 2005, the police seized over 127 kilograms of marijuana 's with a street value of 35,000 lats 's from a farm in Jelgava district, in central Latvia.
In February 2007 the police discovered two marijuana farms. The first of these was a small operation involving 31 marijuana plants that was discovered in a Riga apartment.
The other marijuana operation was discovered in an underground hangar of a private property in the western Latvian district of Kuldiga, and the amount seized was 28 kilograms of marijuana (or 618 marijuana plants) 's as well as three kilograms of processed marijuana.