The American Businessman Who Went Through Hell in a Burmese Prison
How a pioneering hemp farmer got himself into—and out of—a horrific situation
It’s a bluebird December day in Colorado and John Todoroki is riding a high-speed chairlift to the top of Vail Mountain. At 10,000 feet, the air is so crisp, the skies so achingly blue, that it feels like the VIP section for human existence—life on Earth, only better. John savors every moment these days, but none more than these, skiing with his family and friends. He savors them like a man who could just as easily still be lying on a mud floor in a fetid Burmese prison, with no idea when or if he’ll ever get out. “When you’re in a 108-degree prison cell,” he says, gazing up the mountain into the midday sun, “you can’t imagine that you’ll ever breathe air like this again.”
I. The Raid
By any measure, John’s rookie season in the cannabis game was an epic one. In just over a year, the 62-year old American and his team created an irrigation system capable of moving 400,000 gallons of water, a soil-production unit that pulverized tons of volcano-rich, pH-optimized soil a day, and an enormous crop of hemp plants bursting with cannabidiol, better known as CBD. And they were doing it with the government’s blessing in a region of central Myanmar (formerly Burma) with an unreliable municipal power and water supply, and where the average worker has a fourth-grade education. III M Global Nutraceuticals was the first hemp business in Myanmar to receive an operating license from the state government.
It wasn’t until John’s son Alex saw drone footage of the farm in Mandalay that he fully grasped what they’d accomplished. “Once you get this bird’s-eye view,” Alex says, “you’re just like, Jesus, this is huge.”
By March 2019, III M had cultivated two strains of hemp that were extremely low in the intoxicating chemical compound THC and high in the medicinal CBD. The booming CBD industry is projected to be a multibillion-dollar global business in the next few years, and John was thinking bigger than the CBD lattes and nighttime eye creams that had come to define the American market after the 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production in the United States. Already III M’s research on growing…