From Costa Rica to Chile, seizures of Colombian "creepy" marijuana have risen over the past year, but some experts are questioning whether it's the real thing or just a marketing ploy.
In one of the latest and largest seizures, Costa Rican authorities announced in late January they had dismantled a criminal organization that had allegedly trafficked 5.5 tons of marijuana from Cauca, Colombia, to Costa Rica by sea. The seized marijuana was a "high-quality THC substance," according to Michael Soto, the country's former security minister and currently deputy director of the Judicial Investigation Department (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ)
More commonly referred to as "creepy," for its potency and powerful psychoactive effect, it was the latest in a string of marijuana seizures entering Costa Rica for local consumption, Soto told InSight Crime.
Other nations have made similar claims that creepy marijuana has been taking gaining market share. Brazilian authorities seized 3.5 tons of what they said was creepy last August on a convoy of ships sailing down the Rio Negro in the Amazon. Larger and more frequent seizures were also reported in Chile.
The seizures and arrests come as Colombia confronts a more vibrant marijuana-production economy. In 2016, Colombia police seized just over 190 tons of marijuana. But then, seizures have increased drastically, peaking at over 530 tons in 2020, and remaining at around 490 tons in 2021 and 2022, according to government figures. In the past two years, more than half of these seizures have been made in two departments: Cauca and Valle de Cauca.
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Notwithstanding the reports coming from Costa Rica, Brazil, and Chile -- and the seizures in Colombia -- experts consulted by InSight Crime question if the creepy being seized abroad is indeed creepy.
Production, some experts claimed, had leveled off or even dropped.
"I don't think it's accurate to say there's a boom right now," said one researcher, who has studied marijuana production in Cauca but asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "There was a boom a few years ago, but to my knowledge, production growth has flattened due to lower prices."
A number of other academic and security sources were also cautious about claiming more creepy is being produced and thus exported abroad.
What's more, as the demand for the supposedly highly potent weed has shot up, growers have begun to advertise any marijuana they produce or sell as creepy.
"All marijuana coming out of Colombia comes with the name creepy, whether it truly is or not. But if you ask the authorities [in other countries] how it differs from other marijuana seizures, they are unclear," said Miguel Tunjano, a public analyst and a former colonel with Colombia's anti-narcotics police.
"Creepy is not a variety [of marijuana]. Creepy is a label that encompasses a series of strains with a higher THC percentage; it's a generic concept," Luis Felipe Cruz, an investigator at Dejusticia, told InSight Crime. "No one can say that marijuana is "creepy" without testing the percentage of THC."
One clear reason to market marijuana as creepy is because of the high price it fetches. In Colombia, a kilogram of creepy sells for approximately 200,000 Colombian pesos (around $42), with the price decreasing for lower quality products, according to Colombian Police sources.
In Ecuador, a kilo of creepy marijuana is up to eight times more expensive than regular marijuana and can fetch upwards of $1,500. Prices are similar in Costa Rica, where a kilo of creepy has a street value of $1,754, Soto told InSight Crime.
As it radiates out further from Colombia, the price continues to rise. In Brazil, for example, it can reach around $2,800 dollars, according to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. A kilogram of creepy could land traffickers nearly $6,000, according to an investigation by Chilean newspaper La Tercera.