Legal to grow poppies

Can you grow opium poppies in New Zealand?

LOUISE JOLY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum.

Opium poppies and Oriental poppies look similar but need different growing conditions to flower well.

Oriental poppies, Papaver orientale, are perennials native to the Caucasus, northeastern Turkey, and northern Iran. They have large silken-sheened, fine tissue-paper flowers in shades ranging from orange, scarlet, red through pink to white. They bloom in the late spring and early summer. Plants produce many flowers so the display can be breathtaking even though each one only lasts a few days.

By midsummer, plants die down, go dormant and become a mite unsightly. Planting in front of them will screen their dying leaves. Foliage reappears in autumn, but they don’t grow much until spring.

LINE1/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Oriental poppy, Papaver oriental.

Oriental poppies need sufficient chill hours (vital to leaf and flower production) to be able to sense winter accurately and rest. If they have not rested sufficiently, flowers may be stunted . They do grow in warmer areas but the lack of cold may affect the stem length so flowers have little or no stems. Only the North Island central plateau and inland South Island are cold enough for best performance. Oriental poppies like a position in full sun, can tolerate a little shade, and like well-drained soil. Lack of sunlight may also affect the length of the stem. They need at least six hours of sunlight each day.

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The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is also very beautiful. The colour range is similar, and plants tolerate heat better, though they don’t like humid summers, often succumbing to downy mildew.

They produce the poppy seed used in cooking, their leaves are greyish green and they flower in spring. They are also the source of the opium drug.

Opium poppies can be grown legitimately in New Zealand as an ornamental plant, but not for the purpose of producing the drug. The NZ Drug Foundation recommends not growing or selling the flowers and seeds in large quantities.

JOHN BISSET/STUFF Opium and Oriental poppy seadheads are similar.

​Seedheads of Oriental poppies, which don’t contain opium latex, are sometimes mistakenly stolen by thieves seeking drugs, so tuck all poppies away from general view!

Oriental poppies can be grown from seed or from root division. Root division gives you a replica of the original plant but seed may give you variations, which of course is an entirely fascinating pastime to indulge in!

They are quite easily grown from seed, but as they resent root disturbance, care must be taken when transplanting them. Plant container grown plants in autumn if your winters are warm and spring if your winters are cold.

Papaver orientale and Papaver somniferum seed is available from Owairaka Seeds and Kings Seeds.

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Keywords: Papaveraceae (Poppy family), Laws and regulations

After reading an essay on opium poppy by Michael Pollan, I’m worried and confused about the legality of planting Papaver somniferum in my parking strip garden. Is this permitted in Seattle?


While our library cannot offer legal advice, I will say that my understanding of Pollan’s essay is that knowingly growing the poppies with the intent of manufacturing narcotics would certainly be prohibited. However, the poppy is a ubiquitous plant in our area, and the overwhelming majority of gardeners are growing it solely for its beauty.

There is information about laws concerning controlled substances in the Revised Code of Washington(RCW 69.50.401), which describes prohibited acts as follows:
” to manufacture, deliver, or possess with intent to manufacture or deliver, a controlled substance.” In the section which defines terms, poppy seeds are excluded:
“‘Opium poppy’ means the plant of the species Papaver somniferum L., except its seeds.”

Washington State University also addresses this issue:
“It is legal to grow Papaver somniferum in the United States for garden and seed production purposes; it is illegal to manufacture opium from the poppies.”

If you are concerned, I suggest contacting the King County Law Library for greater detail and professional expertise in legal matters.

Date 2019-10-31

As far as drugs go, opium is a relic of a long-lost era of intoxication. Sure, opium’s derivatives — substances like heroin, codeine, and fentanyl — make headlines daily, but the original drug, a golden-brown poppy extract once ubiquitous in pipes across the planet, has lost its edge, at least in the Western world. Couched in cultural obscurity and relegated to Victorian-era Netflix dramas, the drug has not been very tightly policed, as evidenced by the ludicrous laws surrounding it in the U.S., which essentially suggest it’s legal to buy, as long as you don’t know what it is.

And most of us don’t: Opium poppies bloom red, white, and occasionally mauve on the borders of home gardens across America. Their tiny seeds, crunchy and grey, dot the tops of our bagels and the insides of our cakes; getting them is as easy as picking up a 99-cent packet at a Home Depot. Do said opium poppies contain enough opiates to get us stoned? Probably not; the level of opiates in different variants fluctuates. But what’s confounded lawmakers is the fact that these ubiquitous blooms are, biologically speaking, the same addictive plant that brought China’s Qing Dynasty to its knees and millions of addicts to their early deaths.

Opium pipes, like this one smoked on Netflix’s ‘Peaky Blinders,’ were used to smoke the poppy extract until the drug’s widespread condemnation after WWI.Netflix/Peaky Blinders

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, Papaver somniferum — together with “poppy straw” and “concentrate of poppy straw” — is considered a Schedule II substance, putting it into the same category as methadone and fentanyl — substances that have a high potential for abuse and serious psychological or physical dependence and are, not coincidentally, opium’s chemical offspring. (Poppy straw rather vaguely refers to the dried parts of the flower left over after its seeds have been harvested and are crucial to opium production.) Unless they’re dispensed by an official practitioner, they’re technically illegal to possess and use as drugs.

But who can tell, really? Growing them as food or to accentuate your home garden remains technically legal because the laws were never really resolved. The simplest strategy to ban opium and all of its derivatives would have been to ban Americans from growing poppies altogether — regardless of whether they were pipe or pastry bound — and that’s exactly what the Opium Poppy Control Act attempted to enforce in 1942. But it didn’t exactly work: Farmers that grew poppy seeds as food, many of them in California, objected to the act. Widespread ire led to a clusterfuck of protests now referred to as the “Poppy Rebellion.” Officials were forced to issue state-specific permits to farmers growing the seeds as food crops until, finally, after plenty of pushback from cultivators, the act was repealed in 1970. The distinction between its legality as a drug and as either a culinary or aesthetic garnish has remained ¯_(ツ)_/¯ ever since.

Officially, it remains illegal to grow opium poppies for drug use, but it’s generally accepted that police officials around the country will turn a blind eye if they happen to see a small clutch of the scarlet blooms adorning your backyard or pantry. And unless you’re consistently eating huge amounts of the seeds — as Elaine notoriously demonstrated in Seinfeld’s drug-testing episode — you probably won’t get busted for opium use.

Despite the law’s ambiguity, it’s best not to push your luck. A 40-acre opium poppy farm belonging to Kenneth and Shanna French, amateur (but ambitious) opium cultivators in Washington State, was shut down by the Feds in 2013 after an undercover agent caught one of them claiming to sell 500 pounds of dried poppy a month — even though he also mentioned he was selling them for “ornamental purposes.” Large-scale growers of pastry-bound seeds generally need a thumbs-up from the DEA before planting their crops.

Not that the U.S. government has the time or resources to deal with drugs of days past. These days, if it’s targeting opiates, they’re those of the pharmaceutical variety — drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin — which have thousands of Americans in their painkilling — and occasionally, euphoria-inducing — grip. Heroin, the most notorious poppy-derived drug, also remains a problem: Demand for the life-ravaging substance has fueled the continued growth of illicit poppy seed farms across the border in Mexico and in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, countries where opium use is still very much a reality.


As an opioid, Papaver somniferum and its derivatives cause miosis.


The class of drugs derived from opium poppy plants and their structurally related chemical compounds are called opioids. For hundreds of years, derivatives of opioids have been used medicinally for their analgesic, somnolent, and antitussive effects, and they have been abused for their sedative and euphoric effects.

Opium Poppy Growing and Harvesting

PHOTO: Jason Hack (Oleander Photography)

According to Martin Booth’s 1999 book, Opium: A History, opium production from the plant varies depending on growing conditions, taking more than 2.5 acres of poppies to produce about 20 pounds of raw opium. Afghanistan is the world capital of opium.

When scratched, the pod of the plant (see photo) produces a milky latex called opium. This latex contains a variety of opioids, including codeine, morphine, thebaine, and papaverine.


These active drugs are either derived unchanged from the plant (ie, morphine, codeine, and papaverine) or are altered natural derivatives; are “semisynthetic” opioids (ie, heroin, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone); or are fully synthetic compounds (ie, methadone, meperidine, fentanyl, and diphenoxylate). All work by interacting with receptors in the central nervous system, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system. These effects are primarily a result of mu receptor agonism, but also from delta and kappa subtypes.


In overdose, these medications cause unconsciousness and respiratory arrest leading to death. Cardiac symptoms can include palpitations, shortness of breath, syncope, bradycardia, hypotension, dysrhythmias, and cardiac arrest.


There is an antidote, naloxone, that can be given for overdose. It binds to the opioid receptors, blocking their effects and reversing the central nervous system and respiratory depression. It can also precipitate opioid withdrawal, so naloxone should be administered carefully.

Dr. Hack (Oleander Photography) is an emergency physician and medical toxicologist who enjoys taking photographs of beautiful toxic, medicinal, and benign flowers that he stumbles upon or grows in his garden. Contact him at [email protected]

Opium is derived from the poppy plant and can produce euphoric effects when smoked. According to the DEA, the drug is often refined into other drugs such as heroin, morphine or other prescription opiates that are used for the treatment of pain. Opium has long been used to produce analgesic effects upon the user and was used hundreds of years ago by the Chinese during surgery and ritualistic events. Here is a look at some interesting facts about opium use, production, control and addiction:

Opium comes from the poppy plant.

  • Opium use dates back to the Neolithic Age
  • The Chinese commonly used opium during rituals & surgery
  • Opium was not widely used for recreational purposes until the 17th century in China
  • Opium addiction was first discovered by the Chinese in the mid 17th century
  • The drug was once under British control
  • About 7 metric tons of opium are produced each year worldwide
  • Opium can be refined into morphine and other opiates
  • Opium that is refined to heroin produces a highly volatile, extremely addictive form of the drug
  • More than 75% of the world’s supply of opium comes form Afghanistan
  • Opium is highly addictive
  • The opium poppy can produce up to 80 alkaloids that are used to reduce pain
  • Opium or the poppy plant has been widely referenced in movies and literature but likely the most famous instance of this is the use of the poppy plants in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in which the wicked witch used them to put Dorothy & her friends to sleep before they reached the Emerald City

Morphine Drug Facts

What is Morphine and how is it used?

Morphine is a narcotic analgesic. Morphine was first isolated from opium in 1805 by a German pharmacist, Wilhelm Sertürner. Sertürner described it as the Principium Somniferum. He named it morphium – after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Today morphine is isolated from opium in substantially larger quantities – over 1000 tons per year – although most commercial opium is converted into Codeine by methylation. On the illicit market, opium gum is filtered into morphine base and then synthesized into heroin.

Morphine can be taken orally in tablet form, and can also injected subcutaneously, intramuscularly, or intravenously; the last is the route preferred by those who are dependent on morphine.

What are the side effects of Morphine use?

  • abdominal pain
  • abnormal thinking
  • accidental injury
  • agitation
  • allergic reaction
  • anxiety
  • appetite loss
  • apprehension
  • blurred vision / double vision
  • chills
  • constipation
  • cramps
  • depressed or irritable mood
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • dreams
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • exaggerated sense of well-being
  • facial flushing
  • fainting / faintness
  • floating feeling
  • hallucinations
  • headache
  • high/low blood pressure
  • hives
  • inability to urinate
  • insomnia
  • involuntary movement of the eyeball
  • itching
  • light – headedness
  • memory loss
  • nausea
  • “pinpoint” pupils
  • rash
  • rigid muscles
  • sedation
  • seizure
  • sweating
  • swelling due to fluid retention
  • tingling or pins and needles
  • tremor
  • uncoordinated muscle movements
  • vomiting
  • weakness

What are the symptoms of a Morphine overdose?

  • cold clammy skin
  • coma
  • flaccid muscles
  • fluid in the lungs
  • lowered blood pressure
  • “pinpoint” or dilated pupils
  • sleepiness
  • slow pulse rate
  • slowed breathing
  • stupor

17 Secret Moments to Watch For in The Wizard of Oz

MGM’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, returned to movie theatres across the U.S. January 27 thanks to Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. It returns for two additional encore screenings on February 3 and February 5. Find a local theatre near you with a showing and get tickets here.

Screened as part of TCM’s Big Classics Series, The Wizard of Oz set a new record for its initial single-day return, grossing over $1 million at the box office, and taking its place as the highest-grossing single-day classic film presentation in TCM’s history. Eighty years after its premiere, The Wizard of Oz is still a box-office draw.

Filmed in the dawning days of Technicolor—and decades before CGI and high-tech special effects—The Wizard of Oz is a hand-crafted cinematic achievement anchored by its extraordinary cast: Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow, Jack Haley as The Tin Man, and Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion. The musical film is a touchstone for millions across the globe who have grown up under its spell.

Playbill spoke with John Fricke, the preeminent Wizard of Oz historian and author of seven books on both Oz and its star—Judy Garland, to glean an expert take on the film. Here, Fricke shares 17 moments that fans should watch for on the big screen, and dispels one grand myth surrounding The Wizard of Oz.

17 Wizard of Oz Moments to Watch For:

The Cyclone:
The on-screen cyclone was constructed from chicken wire wrapped in muslin. Hung from rigging above the set, the bottom was attached to a cart driven by two stagehands concealed beneath the soundstage floor. The cart was driven back and forth to create the resulting effect of the funnel cloud swooping and twisting across the prairie.

Dorothy’s Bed During the Tornado:
The framework of Dorothy’s bedroom was constructed on a tilting cart that would jolt the set about, heaving furniture and tossing Dorothy about as she is swept up into the cyclone and dropped back down again.

When Dorothy Meets the Scarecrow in the Corn Field:
Judy Garland’s braids shift from long to short and back again several times during the scene in which she first meets the Scarecrow. Keep an eye out as she cuts the Scarecrow down from his post in the corn field and throughout “If I Only Had a Brain.”

The Wizard of Oz Turner Entertainment Co.

When Dorothy and the Scarecrow Encounter the Talking Apple Trees:
A split-second glimpse of Judy Garland in black shoes when she should be wearing Ruby Slippers as she and the Scarecrow scramble away from the Apple-throwing trees.

When the Flying Monkeys Swoop Down and Abduct Dorothy and Toto in the Haunted Forest:
Several of the piano wires used to fly the actors playing the Winged Monkey’s snapped as they swooped down into the Haunted Forest to attack Dorothy and company. “They couldn’t protect the actors. They had to put men in those costumes that had harnesses and battery packs built in to make the wings bob up and down, and then fly them from the top of the soundstage to swoop down onto the set,” Fricke explains. “You hear them crashing to the ground. They were not severely hurt, but this was before the technology we have today.”

Edits and Cut Scenes:
Early edits were made to The Wizard of Oz for several reasons. One was running time. The original film was 11 minutes longer.

During the farm scenes in Kansas, each of the three farmhands have dialogue referencing the characters they become in Oz. Jack Haley’s Hank makes a slight reference to the Tin Man, but a sizeable portion of his dialogue is cut, leaving him with the strange line, “Someday they’ll erect a statue to me in this town.” Aunt Em then admonishes him for “fiddling with that contraption.” What contraption? Originally, Hank had shown Dorothy his latest invention—made from metal, of course—that could control the weather and keep them safe from cyclones. This justified his reasoning for getting a statue, and the “contraption” Aunt Em references.

When Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal The Wizard as a fraud, actor Frank Morgan initially did a series of sleight-of-hand magic tricks in an attempt to appease Dorothy and company. These illusions were also cut to reduce running time, though the props—including a bunch of colored flowers—can still be seen in the background of the throne room console.
Edits were also made to reduce the Wicked Witch’s screen time after young audiences were frightened by the character. Some of this is apparent in the film.

In the Munchkinland scene, the camera cuts away from the Wicked Witch as she says, “I can cause accidents too.” Her lips keep moving, though the dialogue is cut. In another cut scene, the Wicked Witch ordered Nikko—her head Flying Monkey—to bring her the Golden Cap, a reference from L. Frank Baum’s original book. The cap gave her the power to summon the Flying Monkeys and order them to snatch the Ruby Slippers from a sleeping Dorothy in the poppy field. Though this first scene was cut, Nikko returns in a later scene to hand the Wicked Witch the Golden Cap, which is swiftly tossed aside when her plans are foiled.

The Haunted Forest Turner Entertainment Co

The famously cut “Jitterbug” musical number. This sequence occurred just before the Flying Monkeys fly in to attack in the Haunted Forest, and it is still referenced in the Wicked Witch’s dialogue from that scene. “Do what you like with the others, but I want her alive and unharmed!” she says. “They’ll give you no trouble, I promise you that. I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them.”

The insect would render its victims helpless by compelling them to perform the popular jitterbug dance until they collapsed in exhaustion.

The studio hoped audiences wouldn’t notice the line cue and subsequent missing number, and for the most part, they never have. The official Hollywood footage of “The Jitterbug” has never been found, though the soundtrack recording does exist. The only footage of this four-minute dance number known to exist is from composer Harold Arlen’s home videos from the set of The Wizard of Oz, which has a view from off to the side.

When stand-ins take over for the stars:
It’s not actually Judy Garland who opens the farmhouse door to walk into Munchkinland. Garland’s double (dressed in sepia tones used for the Kansas scenes) opens the door and backs out of the frame as Judy Garland—now in full color costume—swiftly steps forward and walks through the farmhouse door to enter Munchkinland in a seamless Technicolor shot. Garland’s double also previously appears when Dorothy falls into the pigpen in on the Kansas farm, and again when she is hoisted aloft by the Winged Monkeys in the Haunted Forest.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch Turner Entertainment Co

The Wicked Witch:
Margaret Hamilton’s double actually makes the Wicked Witch’s entrance into Munchkinland.

The Cowardly Lion:
Bert Lahr’s double makes several appearances: His first is The Cowardly Lion’s leap onto the Yellow Brick Road when he first encounters Dorothy, The Scarecrow, and The Tin Man. His second is when The Cowardly Lion makes his terrified leap through the Emerald City window after their first audience with The Wizard.
Another moment features stand-ins for Larh’s Cowardly Lion, as well as Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow and Jack Haley as The Tin Man. The three stand-ins appear as the trio follow Toto to rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch’s castle. “It’s a noticeable difference,” Fricke points out. “Bert and Jack appear in the closeup shot when they say the dialogue, ‘I hope my strength holds out.’ ‘I hope your tail holds out!’ But in two or three cutaways from those moments, you can see that it’s not our stars climbing the castle exterior. And the Lion double is wearing a truly ratty second-tier costume.”

Movie Myth:
The Legend of the Hanging Munchkin. A repeated myth surrounding the film involves a shadowy figure which can be spotted moving in the trees during the end of the Tin Man’s scene as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man skip upstage singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” Various tales, with their own tragic back stories about the figure, persist to this day.

The most prevalent myth claims that a Munchkin hanged himself from the set after Garland declined to go on a date with him. Others say that the individual is a stagehand, or a young Hollywood starlet who was so distraught over not getting the role of Dorothy that she lept from the top of the soundstage.

“This lore started a good 25–30 years ago,” Fricke says. “What you’re seeing when you look upstage is a live bird. That’s a sarus crane flapping its wings. Because everything in The Wizard of Oz was shot interior on sound stages at MGM, they wanted to give the Tin Woodsman’s scene a feel of the outdoors, so they rented birds from the Los Angeles Zoo.

“If you watch the scene closely from the beginning, there’s also a live toucan on the branch as Judy and Ray are coming down the Yellow Brick Road. Some people think it’s a stuffed figure, but it’s real. There’s also a peacock roaming throughout the following scene with the Tin Man. We didn’t know these details about the birds until we did the research for the 50th anniversary book in 1989.” (You can make out the crane clearly in the new high-definition restorations of the film.)

(CBS) — Baking with poppy seeds and using the pods in flower arrangements are both common but few people know that growing a certain kind of poppy plant or possessing them is illegal in the United States.

CBS 2-Investigators talked to a West Chicago man who found out the hard way.

The laws surrounding the legal possession of poppy plants are confusing as there are numerous varieties of the plant. Are they legal or not? 25-year-old Will Coix was facing a 50 year prison sentence after he was charged with a Super X-class felony for selling dried poppy pods to undercover police agents with the DuPage County Metropolitan Enforcement Group in 2011. The charges were ultimately lessened to a class 1 felony after a plea agreement and Coix was only given a sentence of 2 years’ probation.

The legal battle and ordeal stemmed from a website order he made for dried poppy pods – he was arrested after selling the plant. Will Coix and his father Guillermo Coix wanted to share their concerns over what they say is a lack of information about what is actually legal when it comes to poppy plants in the United States.

The Coix’s talked to CBS 2 from their home gym and where the father Coix trains his son to box. Will Coix is a welterweight fighter who begins his professional career later this month with a fight at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

Will Coix tells CBS 2 his dream of becoming a pro boxer involved a grueling training schedule and nearly 80 amateur fights. He says to help him recover from soreness and injury he relied heavily on natural herbs. He even started a website to sell herbs to other fighters to help cover the cost of his own personal use. He says in 2011 Will Coix says he received a message from a customer asking for an unusual order, “I got an email asking for poppy pods.”

Poppy pods are the bulb part at the top of a poppy plant’s stalk and the pods are filled with poppy seeds. He says he found two other websites selling them in dried form and he filled the customer’s order twice.

He says he was aware seeds from poppy plants were used in baking and sold on buns and bagels. He says he didn’t know the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration actually has one kind of poppy plant on its list of controlled substances.

“It was just a dried plant!,” says Coix.

He found himself suddenly facing the thought of spending the majority of his life behind bars.

“It was just a scary overwhelming feeling that you cannot describe.”

Guillermo Coix saw his son’s boxing career and life as a free man vanish, “He told me he’s was being arrested for poppy pods. I never heard of poppy pods being illegal.”

They both couldn’t understand what was illegal or how anyone could be arrested for selling dried pods from a plant they thought could be grown in gardens.

There are numerous varieties of poppy plants and while DuPage County law enforcement officials say the seeds are completely legal, one species of the plant in particular, the Papaver Somniferum is illegal because it produces opium and heroin is made from it. They are singled out because pods and stalks have higher levels of codeine and morphine than all other poppy plants.

An Official from the DEA tells CBS 2 the only way to legally grow this type of poppy plant is with a “research exemption”. Will Coix says he was unaware of the exemption and was only filling an order for something that he thought produced seeds for baking or dried flowers for ornaments. He now cautions others about buying poppy plants online or growing them in backyard gardens.

“I want to warm families kids to stay away from it don’t touch it,” says Coix.

Opium is extracted from the pods on fresh plants, not dried pods like the ones he ordered.

When asked if he thought he did anything wrong, Coix responded, “I still don’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

Prosecutors offered him a deal giving him probation if he plead guilty to a lesser felony and Coix’s father said they couldn’t afford a lengthy trial or gamble that he might spend 50 years in prison if he lost his case.

The state’s attorney’s office confirms Coix’s is the only poppy pod case they have prosecuted in nearly two decades.

Guillermo Coix says, “We had to take the deal, I didn’t care about the felony all I knew is my son was going to be home with me.”

Couple arrested for alleged opium operation

In what is being called one of the biggest drug busts of its kind in California history, Mountain View police on Friday afternoon announced the seizure of 4,000 pounds of opium poppy pods. The raid resulted in the arrest of two Mountain View residents, identified as Jasvir Singh, 34 and his wife, Donna Santo, 45.

Police officials reported they had been investigating the couple since October, after receiving a tip that they were processing and selling opium poppy pods out their home on the 200 block of Monroe Avenue. Singh and Santo were allegedly importing the poppies from overseas and grinding them into a powder. Police said the pair allegedly was selling bags of the powder out of their house for buyers to brew into a potent tea.

In any form, opium is extremely addictive, taking over a couple weeks for a user to get hooked, said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson.

“Right now we’re being told through our investigation that this was being consumed in tea form,” said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson. “This was putting two and two together.”

This was a case of “good old fashioned police work,” Nelson said, where police gradually built a case over two months through coordinating multiple divisions. That work culminated on Tuesday, Jan. 31, when officers served search warrants on the couple’s Monroe Avenue house and a nearby storage locker.

Inside the house, police found about 50 pounds of poppy pods and $30,000 in cash. At the storage locker, they found nearly 4,000 pounds of poppy pods, which police officials estimate to be worth $400,000.

A third search warrant was served on Thursday to inspect a car owned by Singh and Santo, but Nelson said nothing much of interest was discovered.

Police officials say they are still investigating how long the alleged drug operation was in business. Nelson said investigators have not found a significant recent rise in opium consumption in the city.

Singh and Santo were both arrested on charges on felony possession of a controlled substance. They were also charged with child endangerment for allegedly putting their two children in danger. Those children have now been turned over to child protective services, Nelson said. Singh and Santo are currently being held without bail in Santa Clara County Jail.

Opium poppies, known as Papaver somniferum, are the main ingredient in a range of narcotics, both medicinal and illicit. The latex from the pods contains morphine, the source for many opiates, including codeine and heroin.

The legal status of the poppy is complicated since the seeds of the flower are used in a wide variety of legal oils and foods. Excepting the seeds, most other parts of the opium poppy are considered illegal Schedule-2 narcotics, including the pods and straw.

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Imagine an ocean of scarlet opium poppies dancing in the summer wind.

Sounds like something you’d encounter on the rugged hillsides of Afghanistan. But investigators were surprised this summer to discover cultivated poppy fields growing in Oregon’s wilderness.

Several scenarios may explain these illegal backcountry gardens, but law enforcement isn’t thrilled with any of them. April Baer reports.

Jake McKnight has seen the little orange California poppies that often grow along roadsides in Western Oregon. What he found in June wasn’t that kind of poppy.

Jake McKnight “When I first seen ‘em, that was my first thought, I thought, wow, that’d make a great bouquet for my fiancée! And then I got to looking at ’em and I thought something was strange. “

McKnight is a Forest Patrol Officer for the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. He was here — on a remote, 40-acre clear-cut on tribal forestland, training some helpers for fire season, when he stumbled across a field of some 12,000 specimens of Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy — gorgeous, and illicit.

Jake McKnight: “Well they really stuck out. I can tell you that. They were purple and red — about 3 to 4 feet tall. It was thick enough that it wouldn’t allow another plant to grow in that area.”

McKnight took pictures, and carried them back to tribal officials, who contacted the Yamhill County Interagency Narcotics Team. The plantation was one of three discovered in the Willamette Valley this summer in Yamhill and Linn Counties.

Sgt. Dwayne Willis works on the interagency team that’s investigating two of the three finds.

Dwayne Willis “Poppies in Oregon, very new.”

Usually his team works to find and destroy marijuana, tucked into Oregon’s woods and fields. Willis says the sight of opium poppies growing so thick in the middle of nowhere is suspect.

Dwayne Willis “Based on the way they were planted, the size of the gardens they were planted in, and some of the evidence gathered, these appear to be grown for illegal activity.”

Here’s another dead giveaway – the poppy’s large, showy flowers fall away to reveal big seed pods that ooze a dark-colored gum when you score them with a knife.

When opium poppies are harvested for drug production, that residue is scraped off, collected, and then refined. In both Yamhill County poppy plots, a number of the seed pods had been scored for harvest.

And that would be illegal in Oregon. The law’s a little hazy around poppies, though.

Opium poppy seeds are perfectly legal to buy, and it’s OK to have them in your kitchen – they’re exactly the kind you’ve eaten on bagels or pastries.

And Oregon police aren’t interested in busting backyard gardeners who grow one or two poppy plants. But occasionally over the years police have seized poppies that were clearly being grown for small-scale heroin production.

Botanists say Oregon’s a reasonably good place to grow poppies, because of its climate and terrain. But it would be highly unusual for a non-native species like Papaver somniferum to just spring up and propagate like mad in the middle of a clear cut – even with its prolific seed production.

Someone had to have spent the time and energy to plant and cultivate the three poppy stands found this summer. So who was it?

There’s a long and rich history of drug trafficking organizations, large and small, tending marijuana gardens in the Oregon’s backcountry. These days, the operations are run by large and dangerous Mexican drug cartels.

Their pot gardens may be Oregon’s biggest cash crop. If the drug traffickers are experimenting with opium poppies, it would represent an entirely new front in Oregon’s drug war.

Peter Reuter: “I have never heard of domestic production of opium or heroin in the United States. In recent years it’s mostly been from Mexico and Colombia, some of its coming from SE Asia.”

Peter Reuter teaches Policy and Criminology at the University of Maryland, and has co-written a book on world heroin markets. He says, to this point, no one’s been able to make the economics of poppy growth work in the United States.

Marijuana delivers more money per acre, plus poppies’ brilliant flowers are hard to hide, and their resin is a huge chore to process. Reuter says the Oregon plots might be the work of a local drug dealer.

Reuter would be very surprised if the plants were the first wave of a co-ordinated effort by Mexican drug cartels to produce heroin from Oregon’s fertile hills. But he says it’s not hard to imagine this as a sort of small-scale demonstration project.

Peter Reuter “If someone sort of was really being strategic, perhaps, They planted this and stood back and waited to see what would happen. If there are 50 of these fields out there and only 3 were found, maybe that trafficker will decide it works.”

Whether the poppy plots were homegrown, or the work of foreign gangsters, law enforcement is taking them very seriously. Police can’t talk about the leads they’re exploring — no arrests have been made yet. Officers destroyed all the poppies in early July.

Papaver somniferum

  • Attributes: Genus: Papaver Species: somniferum Family: Papaveraceae Uses (Ethnobotany): Opium is made from the milky sap of the fruit capsules. Life Cycle: Annual Perennial Recommended Propagation Strategy: Seed Country Or Region Of Origin: Europe Distribution: Illegally planted, sometimes persisting in old gardens Wildlife Value: Attracts bee hover fly. Play Value: Wildlife Food Source Edibility: Poppy seeds used as the topping of bread are safe.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Perennial Poisonous Habit/Form: Erect
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Available Space To Plant: 12 inches-3 feet NC Region: Coastal Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Brown/Copper Green Fruit Type: Capsule Fruit Length: 1-3 inches Fruit Width: 1-3 inches Fruit Description: Fruit a capsule with an expanded disc at the top and over small holes through which the minute seeds are dispersed
  • Flowers: Flower Color: Blue Pink Purple/Lavender Red/Burgundy White Flower Value To Gardener: Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Flower Shape: Saucer Flower Petals: 4-5 petals/rays Flower Size: 1-3 inches Flower Description: Flowers terminal, with 5 or more showy petals.
  • Leaves: Leaf Color: Green Leaf Feel: Rough Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Margin: Dentate Hairs Present: No Leaf Description: leaves alternate, simple, clasping, toothed
  • Stem: Stem Color: Green Stem Is Aromatic: No
  • Landscape: Attracts: Bees Problems: Poisonous to Humans Problem for Cats Problem for Children Problem for Dogs
  • Poisonous to Humans: Poison Severity: High Poison Symptoms: HIGHLY TOXIC, MAY BE FATAL IF EATEN! Stupor, coma, shallow and slow breathing, respiratory and circulatory depression. Poison Toxic Principle: Alkaloids, morphine and others Causes Contact Dermatitis: No Poison Part: Fruits Sap/Juice

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