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Illinois Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana remains the most readily available and most abused drug in Illinois. (See Appendix for responses to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2000.) Abuse by young people has increased dramatically since the early 1990s. Shipments of marijuana ranging from multikilogram to metric ton quantities are transported to Illinois from the Southwest Border area on a regular basis by Mexican DTOs. Chicago is both a major destination for Mexican-produced marijuana and a transshipment point to other areas in the Great Lakes Region and the Midwest. The rural areas of Illinois provide an adequate environment for the domestic cultivation of cannabis.
Marijuana remains the most widely available and abused drug in Illinois. Marijuana abuse spans a wide spectrum of age, racial, and socioeconomic groups. Marijuana abuse by young people increased dramatically since the early 1990s. Over the past 10 years, marijuana abuse by eighth-grade students tripled. In 1998, more than 21 percent of all eighth-grade students, 37 percent of all tenth-grade students, and nearly 42 percent of all twelfth-grade students in Illinois reported using marijuana in the past year. (See Chart 4.) Marijuana abuse by Illinois students varies demographically. Eighth graders outside Cook County show significantly lower rates of marijuana abuse than eighth graders in Cook County, although this difference becomes negligible when students reach the tenth and twelfth grades.
Percentage of Students using Marijuana in Past Year
Source: Illinois Department of Human Services, Youth Study on Substance Abuse: Comparing the 1995, 1997, and 1998 Results, Chestnut Health Systems, November 1999.
The high levels of marijuana abuse by students have detrimental consequences for the educational system in Illinois. A 6-year study completed in 1999 may indicate a correlation between marijuana use and school performance. In that study, 49 students in one high school who either possessed or were under the influence of marijuana during the school day were monitored. All students involved had serious attendance problems, were significantly behind their peers in academic progress, and were characterized by their teachers as apathetic and unmotivated. Each of these students also had serious disciplinary problems at school and negatively influenced their peers.
Arrest statistics provide additional evidence that marijuana abuse has
increased in Illinois. Marijuana arrests statewide have more than
Chart 5. Illinois Marijuana Arrests
The high levels of marijuana abuse in Illinois are also confirmed in hospital ED mentions for marijuana over the past 10 years. CEWG reports show that marijuana abuse in Chicago continues to increase, evidenced by one of the nation's highest rates of marijuana ED mentions. (See Chart 6.) While ED mentions for marijuana rose 44 percent nationwide from 1988 to 1998, they increased over 300 percent in Chicago.
Chart 6. CEWG Chicago Marijuana Mentions per 100,000
Marijuana is often used in association with other drugs. Law enforcement officials report an increase in the popularity of smoking blunts, a marijuana-packed cigar. Some users lace marijuana blunts with crack or PCP (phencyclidine).
Marijuana abuse results in economic costs to society. According to research funded through the Illinois Department of Human Services, the adverse economic impact of marijuana abuse is corroborated by a number of facts. Marijuana users have 55 percent more industrial accidents than nonusers, 85 percent more injuries at work, and 78 percent more absenteeism. Furthermore, drug users have medical costs that are 300 percent higher than nonusers, and they are five times more likely to file a claim under worker's compensation benefits.
Marijuana is the most readily available drug in Illinois. Marijuana seizures by state and local law enforcement agencies have increased over the past 10 years. Seizures by federal law enforcement have also increased over the past 10 years. In FY1999, the FDSS reported 5,635 kilograms of marijuana seized in Illinois, up from 1,171 kilograms seized in FY1997 and 4,767 kilograms seized in FY1998.
Quantities ranging from multikilograms to metric tons are transported regularly to Illinois from the Southwest Border area. Through Operation Valkyrie, the Illinois State Police highway interdiction effort, officials seized more than 5,900 kilograms of marijuana in 1998 and more than 45,000 kilograms since 1990, an achievement unequaled among non-Southwest Border states.
Commercial-grade marijuana produced in Mexico is the most widely available type in Illinois. Mexican-produced marijuana is relatively inexpensive because of its low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content (average 3.3 percent). Domestically cultivated cannabis plants, particularly indoor grown cannabis, produce a highly potent, more marketable marijuana that is available at a higher price, but in much smaller quantities. Marijuana prices in Illinois have remained relatively constant over the past decade. (See Table 5.)
Table 5. Marijuana Prices, Chicago, 2000
While marijuana abuse is not normally tied directly to violent behavior, ADAM statistics for Chicago reveal that over 40 percent of males arrested for violent crimes in 1999 tested positive for marijuana.
Domestic cannabis growers are often heavily armed and commonly use booby traps and warning devices to protect their cultivation sites from law enforcement authorities and the public. The U.S. Forest Service reports that visitors to public lands may be endangered by the presence of cannabis cultivation sites, which routinely are booby-trapped with explosives, trip-wire firing devices, hanging fishhooks, and punji stakes buried around the cannabis plots. The number of weapons seized during cannabis eradication program operations nationwide more than doubled over the past decade.
Illinois provides an adequate environment for cannabis cultivation. Despite a limited growing season, the fertile soil and large, sparsely populated rural areas of Illinois attract cannabis growers. Cannabis is intermixed with corn and soybean crops, making it visible only from the air. In addition, horticultural techniques found on the Internet and in magazines are triggering an increase in the number of indoor cannabis grows. For example, the Alton Police Department reports that it seized plants from 8 to 10 indoor cannabis cultivation operations during 1999. The average indoor grow contained 25-50 plants, but some contained as many as 250 plants.
DEA has an aggressive Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program in Illinois, which consistently ranks among the top 10 states in the country in the number of plants and plots of cannabis that are eradicated each year. See Table 6 for the latest available seizure data.
Table 6. Cannabis Seizures, Illinois, 1998
Mexican DTOs smuggle most of the marijuana in Illinois from Mexico through the Southwest Border area. In 1999, at least 20 OCDETF investigations involving large-scale marijuana shipments to Chicago from the Southwest Border were initiated nationwide. Seven of the fifteen largest marijuana seizures reported through El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) Operation Pipeline/Convoy data for 1999 were shipments destined for Illinois from Texas. These seizures totaled over 13,000 kilograms of marijuana. Operation Valkyrie, as well as other Operation Pipeline seizures, indicates that the Chicago area remains a major hub for the large-scale distribution of Mexican marijuana.
Mexican DTOs have traditionally transported bulk marijuana
shipments concealed with legitimate goods in tractor-trailers into the
Chicago area from the Southwest Border. A review of EPIC reports of 1999
seizures of marijuana shipments destined for Chicago reveal that shipments
have been intermixed with legitimate goods ranging from furniture to
ignition coils to polyvinyl chloride. "Shotgunning" of multiple
shipments of smaller quantities of marijuana concealed in passenger cars is
becoming more popular because it lessens the risk of losing very large
shipments to law enforcement. According to USCS officials in Chicago, it is
becoming more common for smaller shipments of marijuana to be smuggled
across the Southwest Border and later consolidated into larger shipments
destined for Chicago.
The primary wholesalers of marijuana in Chicago are the same Mexican DTOs who supply most of the cocaine and Mexican heroin in the Chicago area. Mexican trafficking cells operating in the Chicago area are often composed of extended family members of associates or organization members in Mexico. These family connections and associations provide the means for DTOs in Mexico to establish small branches of their organizations, or cells, in the Chicago area to facilitate the wholesale distribution of marijuana. Numerous other groups with connections to these Mexican DTOs are responsible for wholesale marijuana distribution in Illinois. Marijuana is sold at the wholesale level in quantities ranging from several hundred kilograms to a metric ton.
Mexican criminal groups own and operate a variety of businesses to facilitate drug sales and other criminal activities. These businesses serve dual purposes. Businesses such as restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries, and automobile detail shops provide opportunities for shipping and receiving drugs and currency along with legitimate supplies. In addition, automobile detail shops can be used to construct concealed compartments to hide drugs in cars and other vehicles. The second purpose of these businesses is to serve as fronts for laundering the proceeds of drug sales. Restaurants, bars, and other businesses that deal mainly in cash are particularly suited for laundering money.
Law enforcement agencies across the state report that gangs dominate the retail drug trade. These gangs survive financially through the distribution and sale of drugs. Street gangs typically sell marijuana and other drugs in low-income areas such as public housing projects in the Chicago area. African-American and Hispanic street gangs are the primary street-level distributors of marijuana. Gang members who sell drugs on the street corners are often teenagers or younger.
Street gangs are the major retailers of marijuana, but outlaw motorcycle gangs and ethnic criminal groups also distribute marijuana at the street level, usually within their own communities. Sales by these groups take place on street corners, from vehicles, in dope houses, in bars, and in other public places. Law enforcement officials across Illinois report that marijuana is available from a variety of sources at the retail level; it is packaged in small plastic bags and sold for $20 or more.
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