Corruption & Scandals Editor's Picks

Major drug bust coverage cops criticism

Screen shot of MBN report
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

Expats are criticizing press coverage of a recent drug bust claiming reporters are placing emphasis on perpetrators’ overseas stay, unconfirmed allegations about customers’ nationalities, and significantly inflating the value of the bust.

Police announced Wednesday that they arrested a 39-year-old Korean man for growing 46 cannabis plants in his 109 square meter apartment in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

They claimed it to be the largest indoor cannabis operation ever to be found in South Korea to date.

Citing an anonymous police source, mainstream Korean media jumped into the story and churned out reports claiming that these plants, plus the 135 grams of cultivated product, is worth 2 billion won, ($1.8 million) and can supply 92,000 individuals.

This equals $39,130 per plant, which growers in the U.S. suggest would yield around 1 pound or 454grams per plant.

The grower used several high-powered LED lights, fans, and an artificial greenhouse to produce high-yielding plants. This set up is believed to cost nearly $5,000 and generate an electricity bill of $800 to $1,000 per month.

“Lights are of the utmost importance when growing indoors. Experienced growers can produce about 1 gram of marijuana per watt of light,” says Robert Bergman in his YouTube video that features on

Moon Jeong-up, a police officer involved in the arrest, refuted claims that the police exaggerated the value of confiscated marijuana.

“It wasn’t us but the media who did the math and came up with the estimate of 200 million won,” he said.

He, however, noted that the marijuana grower was charging about $150 per gram for his marijuana to his affluent clients, almost 50 times higher than the prosecutor’s estimated retail price of marijuana in Seoul.

A 2014 government report reveals that prosecutors estimate retail prices for 1 gram of marijuana in Seoul to be between 3,000 to 4,000 won per gram and the wholesale price to 1,000 won.

The retail price of marijuana was lowest in Changwon at 2,000 won per gram and highest in Suwon at 12,000 won per gram.

When asked why the Korean media called the incident as a marijuana bust against overseas students, Moon replied that the vast majority of the 68 customers who were booked without detention were overseas students.

“I’d say over 70 percent of his customers were from abroad and they were from countries like the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Ecuador,” he said.

Police told the media in a press conference that the perpetrator “immigrated” to New Zealand between the years 2007 to 2013 and “started the illegal cultivation the year he returned.”

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

Click here not to show this pop-up box again.