More than 400 kilograms of high-quality marijuana from Colombia were seized in Santiago, Chile, a sign that Colombian traffickers may be increasing exports of a drug typically produced for domestic consumption.
A joint operation by authorities from Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru led to the seizure of 426 kilograms of a Colombian strain of marijuana known as "cripy," as well as the dismantling of a Colombian gang that was hoping to sell the drug in Santiago, reported Cooperativa.
Police found the load in a truck that came from Colombia and reached Chile through the northern city of Arica. The seizure, valued at an estimated $9 million, is the largest ever recorded for this strain of marijuana in Chile.
Three Colombians were captured during the operation, including the alleged leader of the trafficking organization, EFE reported.
International seizures of marijuana from Colombia have grown almost tenfold in the past few years, according to official statistics, climbing from around 520 kilograms in 2012 to more than 5,100 kilograms in 2016.
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The record-breaking seizure of "cripy" marijuana in Santiago, combined with the overall rise in international seizures, may signal that Colombian marijuana traffickers are trying to expand into new markets across Latin America.
Known for having up to 20 percent higher THC levels than other types of marijuana, Colombian "cripy" is also significantly more expensive than lower-quality product. In Colombia, the heart of the "cripy" trade is located in the southwestern departments of Cauca and Valle, and has turned into a key revenue source for local organized crime groups.
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"Cripy" has traditionally been produced laregly for domestic Colombian consumption. But the growing demand from neighboring countries and the profits that the strain can offer may have persuaded Colombian traffickers to look at other markets from across the region.
Together with Trinidad and Tobago, authorities believe Chile has turned into one of the favored destinations for Colombians hoping to export and sell the high-quality marijuana. The drug is typically smuggled from Colombia and sold in Santiago and the city port of Antofagasta, where it is traded at much higher prices than in Colombia. While a kilogram of "cripy" costs an estimated $54 in Colombia, the price in Chile can go up to $5,000.
Chile's lucrative drug market has long been fed by Paraguay, South America's largest marijuana producer. In 2014, authorities in Argentina seized a record-breaking 8.5 tons of Paraguayan marijuana that was destined to Chile. This week's historic seizure of the Colombian "cripy" strain could be a sign that supply and demand patterns are changing across the region.