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District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
January 2002


Marijuana is the most readily available, least expensive, and widely abused illicit drug in D.C. However, the drug poses a lower threat than cocaine or heroin because the District had no deaths in 1999 related to marijuana abuse, and its abuse is not frequently associated with violent crime. Most of the marijuana available in D.C. is supplied from areas including Arizona, Southern California, Texas, Jamaica, and Mexico and transported to the District. However, smaller quantities are produced locally, mostly at indoor locations. Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of marijuana in the District. Crews, many with a propensity toward violence, distribute retail quantities of marijuana as do many criminal groups and independent dealers. Legislation enacted in June 2001 makes penalties for possession and distribution of marijuana much more severe than in the past.

Marijuana Legislation in D.C.

Law 13-300, which became effective on June 8, 2001, toughens the penalties for the distribution and possession of marijuana. This law makes distribution or intent to distribute more than a half-pound of marijuana a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Possession of over a half-pound of marijuana is now a felony.

Source: District of Columbia Register, 29 June 2001.

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Treatment data indicate that marijuana is commonly abused in D.C. According to TEDS data, the number of drug treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for marijuana abuse in D.C. increased almost 510 percent from 123 in 1996 to 750 in 1999, but remained lower than the number of treatment admissions for either cocaine (see Table 1 in Cocaine section.) or heroin. (See Table 4 in Heroin section.) 

Table 7. Marijuana-Related Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities, District of Columbia, 1994-1999

Year Number
1994 215
1995 147
1996 123
1997 344
1998 549
1999 750

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set.

Out of 21 total metropolitan reporting areas, the district ranked seventh in the number of marijuana DAWN ED mentions in 2000. The number of ED mentions for marijuana in D.C. increased from 2,035 (fifth highest) in 1995 to 2,511 in 2000, according to the DAWN data. The District had no marijuana-related deaths in 1999, according to DAWN ME data.

Table 8. Marijuana/Hashish-Related Emergency Department Mentions and Mentions Per 100,000, District of Columbia, 1995-2000

Year Mentions Mentions per 100,000
1995 2,035 55
1996 2,167 58
1997 2,394 63
1998 2,396 62
1999 2,518 65
2000 2,511 64

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year-End Emergency Department Data.

Approximately 35 percent of adult male arrestees tested for drug abuse in D.C. in 1999 tested positive for marijuana abuse. Approximately 85 percent of male arrestees aged 15 to 20 and 70 percent of male arrestees aged 21 to 25 who tested positive for drug abuse in 1999 tested positive for marijuana, according to ADAM data. Almost 39 percent of Caucasian male arrestees who were tested for drug abuse tested positive for marijuana abuse.

Survey and law enforcement data indicate that marijuana is commonly abused in D.C. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, nationwide the District had the fourth highest rate within all age groups and the tenth highest rate for individuals 12 to 17 years of age in the percentage of current marijuana abusers. D.C. and Colorado tied for first in the percentage of current abusers in the 26-and-older category. Blunts (cigars in which the filler tobacco has been replaced with marijuana) and joints are the most popular methods of smoking marijuana, particularly among younger abusers in D.C., according to DEA. T-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers emblazoned with a marijuana leaf and the words "blunt" or "chronic" (popular street slang for high-grade marijuana) can be purchased at colleges, head shops, and other locations in the District.

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Marijuana is the most readily available illegal drug in the District. In 1999 the Metropolitan Police arrested over 4,660 individuals, most of them teenagers and young adults, on marijuana-related charges. Most of the seizures documented in Operation JETWAY and Operation Pipeline for D.C. in 2000 were marijuana-related. The Metropolitan Police Department reports that more marijuana is now sold in D.C. than in previous years. Nine of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. from October 1998 to June 2001 were marijuana-related, ranking third after cocaine and heroin investigations.

Intelligence reports indicate that bulk quantities of marijuana in D.C. are priced according to their level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical unique to the cannabis plant that induces marijuana's psychoactive effects. THC levels of commercial grade marijuana distributed in D.C. have historically been low (currently 2.6 percent) compared with the national average of 4.92 percent. However, three forms of marijuana with a higher potency--referred to as hydro, Killer Bud or KB, and Killer Weed--are now available in D.C. Hydro is grown hydroponically (in water) in closely controlled conditions to increase its potency. This form reportedly has a THC level as high as 12 percent and is preferred by many young abusers. Killer Bud is grown in the standard indoor fashion with enhanced soil and lighting. Both hydro and Killer Bud have a stronger than usual odor and bolder coloring than commercial grade marijuana, and both are also reportedly grown in Canada. According to DEA, Killer Weed, also known as "boat" in D.C., is marijuana that has been dipped or soaked in PCP, which increases the potency of the substance and may also cause brain damage.

Prices for marijuana in the Washington Metropolitan Area are low and stable. According to the DEA Washington Division and MAGLOCLEN, commercial grade marijuana sold for $10 a gram (approximately two dosage units), $100 an ounce, $700 to $1,400 a pound, and $1,700 to $3,800 a kilogram in 2001. A kilogram of sinsemilla (the processed version of the leaves and buds of the unpollinated female cannabis plant that yields the highest THC levels and is therefore more desirable to abusers) sold for $4,500 in 2000, according to the DEA Washington Division.

The quantities of marijuana seized in D.C. fluctuated between FY1995 and FY2000. According to the FDSS data, law enforcement officers seized more marijuana in FY1999 (119 kilograms) than in any other year from FY1995 through FY2000. In 1999 law enforcement officials seized numerous small quantities rather than one large amount. Additionally, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, the U.S. Park Police reported seizing approximately 5.2 kilograms of marijuana in D.C. in 1999 and approximately 10.8 kilograms in 2000. 

Table 9. Marijuana Seizures, District of Columbia, FY1995-FY2000

Year Kilograms
1995 4.6
1996 23.2
1997 48.8
1998 44.5
1999 119.0
2000 50.6

Source: DEA, Federal-wide Drug Seizure System.

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Marijuana abusers are generally nonviolent. The effects of marijuana often depend upon abuser expectations as well as the potency of the marijuana itself. While low THC marijuana tends to induce a sense of relaxation, high THC content may cause image distortion, a loss of personal identity, fantasies, and hallucinations, which could lead to violence.

Marijuana available in the District is sometimes mixed with other drugs including crack and PCP (phencyclidine). (See ODD section.) The most common mixture involves small rocks of crack or PCP added to marijuana blunts. These drugs substantially alter the effects and toxicity of the marijuana blunt, making it more likely that the abuser will become violent.

The level of violence associated with the distribution of marijuana in D.C. has increased over the last decade, as cocaine and heroin distributors have started to sell marijuana along with other drugs at open-air markets. The level of violence is equivalent to that associated with the distribution of cocaine or heroin. Law enforcement sources attribute much of the District's high crime rate to the distribution of marijuana, which is often the principle source of revenue for crews. According to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000, at least 28 crews in D.C. distribute marijuana along with other illicit drugs and often commit violent crimes. (See text box.) The Metropolitan Police Department reports that crews frequently commit assaults, automobile thefts, drive-by shootings, homicides, and are involved in black-market weapons distribution.

Members of the K Street Crew Convicted of Murder

In August 2001 a federal jury convicted six members of the K Street Crew (a Southeast D.C.-based crew that distributed marijuana, crack, and PCP in an open-air market) of murder. This crew began distributing large quantities of marijuana in the mid-1990s. Its members committed 18 murders.

Source: The Washington Post, 17 August 2001.



Cannabis is not cultivated in large quantities in D.C., primarily because the urban landscape is not conducive to outdoor grows. However, producers in Arizona, Southern California, Texas, Jamaica, and Mexico cultivate significant quantities of cannabis outdoors. Producers in the rural areas of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia cultivate smaller amounts of cannabis outdoors. All supply the market in the District. The plants that are cultivated in D.C. are usually grown indoors in smaller quantities. For example, the Metropolitan Police Department reports that cannabis plants have been seized in basement grows. 

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Express mail services and private vehicles are the primary means used to transport multipound quantities of marijuana to and from D.C. Buses and trains are used as well. Domestically grown marijuana is often transported to the District from Arizona, California, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia, among other locations. Some domestically grown marijuana also is transported through the District by these same methods en route to areas including North and South Carolina for further distribution. Of note, some Virginia and Maryland residents travel to D.C. in private automobiles to purchase personal-use quantities of marijuana, according to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA.

Seizure data indicate that marijuana was the drug most often transported to and from D.C. in 2000. According to Operation Pipeline and Operation JETWAY data, law enforcement made 10 of 17 marijuana-related seizures during that period. Half of those shipments originated in Arizona and were destined for D.C., and one marijuana shipment was transported through D.C. en route to North Carolina. Additionally, 36 airport seizures and 23 mail seizures in D.C. in 2000 involved marijuana, according to Operation JETWAY data. All of those marijuana shipments were destined for D.C. except two, which were being transported from or through D.C. en route to Virginia. In August 2000 law enforcement personnel from D.C. and Prince George's County, Maryland, arrested two individuals and seized 38 pounds of marijuana in two packages that were transported via express mail service from Landover, Maryland, to Southeast D.C.

Multihundred Kilograms of Marijuana Seized

In 2001 the El Paso Police Department seized 328 kilograms of marijuana in Texas in a tractor-trailer destined for D.C. The marijuana was concealed in seven cardboard boxes. Law enforcement officials discovered that this seizure was linked to several other large seizures.

Source: DEA.

Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups appear to be the dominant transporters of marijuana to D.C.; however, Caucasian, African American, and many other criminal groups also transport marijuana to and from the District. Marijuana cultivated in Mexico is transported mainly from southwestern states by Mexican and Jamaican criminal groups, among others, using the same means used to smuggle domestically grown marijuana to and from the District. Couriers sometimes use dryer sheets, yellow mustard, coffee grounds, jalapeņo peppers, hot pepper flakes, or cleaning products to mask the marijuana odor during transport. According to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA, Jamaican criminal groups, in particular, transport large quantities of marijuana through express mail services and commercial cargo carriers.

Operation Marquis

In July 2001 federal law enforcement officials arrested 76 members of a multimillion dollar Mexico-based drug network in an investigation titled "Operation Marquis." This drug ring smuggled marijuana and cocaine concealed in shipments of produce in tractor-trailers, in private automobiles with hidden compartments, and on passenger buses from Mexico to Texas (Austin and San Antonio). Some of the drugs were allegedly distributed in southern Texas, and the rest were transported to San Diego, the District, and other locations. The ring was capable of smuggling 5,000 pounds of marijuana and 200 kilograms of cocaine monthly into the United States.

Source: DEA.

Seizure statistics indicate that commercial aircraft are rarely used to transport marijuana to D.C. According to EPIC seizure statistics, 4.6 kilograms of marijuana were seized on commercial airlines in 1998. Law enforcement officials reported no other commercial airline seizures to EPIC from 1995 to 1999.

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Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of marijuana in the District; however, many other groups distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana as well. Asian/Chinese, Caribbean, Nigerian/West African, Central American, and Caucasian criminal groups, among others, distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana, according to the Metropolitan Police. The DEA Washington Division reports that local independent dealers, local street crews, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana in the District, but to a lesser extent than do Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups.

Most of the groups distributing cocaine or heroin in D.C. also distribute marijuana. Some groups that distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana in the District also distribute retail quantities, according to the Metropolitan Police and the DEA Washington Division. The DEA Washington Division reports that marijuana is increasingly distributed at open-air drug markets, housing projects, raves, and offices.

Crews frequently distribute marijuana in D.C. According to the NDIC Gang Survey 2000, at least 28 crews distribute retail quantities of marijuana and other drugs in the District. All the crews are African American except one; La Mara R is Hispanic.

Crews Known to Distribute Marijuana in D.C.
1-5 Mob 1-7 Crew 1st & O Crew
1st & Seaton Place Crew 1st & T Street Crew 3rd World
5th & O Street Crew 6th & S Street Crew 7th & O Street Crew
7th & S Street Crew 7th & Taylor Crew 13th Street Crew
14th & Clifton Street Crew 57th Street Mob 58th Street Mob
1512 Crew Alabama Avenue Crew Barry Farms Crew
The Circle/Simple City Crew Congress Park Crew E Street Crew
Hobart Stars La Mara R Lincoln Heights Crew
Mellon Mob Naylor Road Crew Rock Creek Church Crew
Stanton Terrace Crew  

Source: National Drug Intelligence Center, National Gang Survey 2000.

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