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Kentucky Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana is the most widely available and frequently abused illicit drug in Kentucky; it remains the foremost cash crop throughout the state. Growers are increasingly using violence to protect themselves and their crop in the state. Nearly 50 percent of all drug treatment admissions in Kentucky from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000 were marijuana-related--more than for any other drug--and the number of treatment admissions for marijuana abuse increased 27 percent from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000. Cannabis is more commonly cultivated outdoors in Kentucky, but the number of indoor cannabis grows is increasing. Kentucky ranked among the top three states in the nation for the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year from 1998 through 2000. In 2000 over 460,000 cannabis plants were eradicated in Kentucky, ranking it third behind California and Hawaii, respectively. Local independent Caucasian producers cultivate most of the marijuana available in the state and are the dominant wholesale distributors of locally produced marijuana. Local independent producers also distribute Mexico-produced marijuana, often using it as filler for their product. Mexican criminal groups--the primary transporters of Mexico-produced marijuana into Kentucky--usually sell wholesale quantities to local independent Caucasian dealers, who are the dominant retail distributors of Mexico-produced marijuana. Local independent Caucasian dealers also are the dominant retail distributors of locally produced marijuana. Retail marijuana sales usually occur in private residences, bars, and restaurants in the state.
Marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit drug in Kentucky, and treatment admissions for marijuana abuse are increasing. According to the Kentucky Division of Substance Abuse, nearly 50 percent of all admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Kentucky from FY1998 through FY2000 were marijuana-related--more than for any other drug. Treatment admissions in the state for marijuana abuse increased 27 percent, from 9,879 in FY1998 to 12,584 in FY2000.
In Kentucky marijuana often is used in combination with alcohol or other drugs. There are significant numbers of marijuana abusers in all urban centers, particularly in the counties of western and northeastern Kentucky.
Marijuana abuse is prevalent among Kentucky high school students. Treatment admissions for marijuana abuse for 15 to 19 year olds increased 25 percent, from 1,493 admissions in FY1998 to 1,862 in FY2000. According to YRBS data, 46 percent of Kentucky high school students who responded to the survey in 1999 reported that they had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime; 24 percent reported that they had used marijuana in the 30 days preceding the survey.
Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in Kentucky. All DEA resident offices in Kentucky report that marijuana availability is widespread. The number of cannabis plants eradicated in Kentucky is indicative of the prevalence of marijuana in the state. Several hundred thousand cannabis plants are eradicated indoors and outdoors each year in the state, ranking Kentucky as one of the largest producers of marijuana in the nation. DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) operations resulted in the eradication of 342,093 plants during 1998, 526,388 plants during 1999, and 466,933 plants during 2000. Maintenance issues with helicopters used in cannabis eradication initiatives have resulted in a decrease in flight hours, cited as the cause for the decrease in the number of plants eradicated during 2000.
Kentucky's cannabis growing season influences marijuana availability in the state and throughout the region. Weather conditions have a significant impact on the outdoor cannabis harvest. Planting generally occurs in April, and plants are harvested in September or October after the first heavy frosts. Locally produced marijuana generally is available after the harvest and through the winter months. Mexico-produced marijuana is used as filler for the higher-grade marijuana produced locally and as a supplement for locally produced marijuana after the previous season's supply has been exhausted.
Marijuana prices throughout most of Kentucky are stable; however, marijuana prices in Louisville have decreased slightly. In Louisville a pound of marijuana sold for $1,800 to $2,400 in 1995 and for $1,800 in 2000. According to a survey of Kentucky State Police, the price of marijuana varies from $3 per gram in rural communities to $12 per gram in metropolitan areas. The statewide average price is $5 per gram. Although prices for each type of marijuana were not specified, law enforcement officers report that locally produced marijuana typically commands a higher price than Mexico-produced marijuana.
The production of marijuana is increasingly associated with violence. Growers in Kentucky are known to protect themselves and their crops with firearms, explosives, and booby traps, posing a greater threat to law enforcement and the public. Marijuana growers operating on federal land in Kentucky have verbally and physically assaulted visitors to national forests. The U.S. Forest Service advises that booby-trapped cannabis cultivation sites may endanger visitors. The use of weapons and explosives has resulted in a rise in related crimes such as assaults, illegal possession of firearms, and murders. The number of weapons seized during cannabis eradication program operations nationwide has more than doubled over the past decade.
Large quantities of cannabis are cultivated in Kentucky. The largest areas of cultivation are in the central and eastern parts of the state with sporadic cultivation in western Kentucky. Most cannabis is cultivated on large, isolated parcels of land throughout the rural, mountainous areas, making these plots inaccessible by any means other than by foot, four wheel drive, or aircraft.
Kentucky is a significant producer of marijuana for the region and the nation. Kentucky continually ranked among the top three states for the number of cannabis plants eradicated from 1998 through 2000. Over 460,000 cannabis plants were eradicated in Kentucky in 2000, ranking it third behind California and Hawaii. More than 40 percent of the cannabis plants grown in the United States--an estimated 1.6 million outdoor plants--are cultivated in the Appalachia region. From 1990 through 2000, the Daniel Boone National Forest, located in eastern Kentucky, has led all national forests for the number of cannabis plants eradicated. In 1999, 38 percent (184,000 plants) of all cannabis eradicated on national forest land was taken from the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Cannabis is more commonly cultivated outdoors in Kentucky, but the number of indoor cannabis grows, including sophisticated hydroponic operations, is increasing. According to 1998 DCE/SP statistics, California, Florida, Oregon, Alaska, and Kentucky are the five leading states for indoor cannabis eradication. All Kentucky DEA offices indicate that indoor cannabis cultivation operations occur throughout their jurisdictions, and there have been considerable increases in sophisticated hydroponic cannabis grow operations since 1995. According to the Appalachia HIDTA, investigators in Kentucky are discovering more growers who begin the cultivation process indoors. Often, plants are started as clones to ensure growth of a female plant with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). After 1 month the plants are sufficiently mature to transplant outdoors. This process increases cannabis production since it provides the opportunity to grow two outdoor crops per year. The Bowling Green, Covington, Lexington, and Owensboro Police Departments report that indoor, outdoor, and hydroponic cultivation occur throughout their areas.
Local independent Caucasian producers control cannabis cultivation throughout Kentucky. Law enforcement agencies responding to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001 reported that local independent producers dominate cultivation in their jurisdictions. Most producers are Caucasian males, and most operate independently or in small groups. Often, groups cultivating cannabis consist of family members with each member having a specific role. Cannabis cultivators represent a broad age range of individuals, from teenagers to senior citizens.
Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of Mexico-produced marijuana into Kentucky, which they usually transport through California and southwestern states. Specific information documenting the extent of Mexican criminal groups transporting marijuana into Kentucky is largely anecdotal. However, several federal, state, and major metropolitan police investigations have documented the involvement of these groups in the transportation of marijuana into the state. The Bowling Green Drug Task Force and the Owensboro Police Department reported that Mexican criminal groups are responsible for transporting Mexico-produced marijuana into their jurisdictions from California and southwestern states. The Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force reported that all of the marijuana seized in its jurisdiction is Mexico-produced and is transported from the Tucson, Arizona, area.
Law enforcement officials have reported that Mexico-produced marijuana is transported across the U.S.-Mexico border, then north to I-40 and I-70. Law enforcement agencies in Utah and Oklahoma have intercepted marijuana in large quantities destined for Kentucky and eastern states. For example, the Utah State Police seized 136 kilograms of marijuana from an individual traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 191 in Utah. The individual was en route to Somerset, Kentucky, from Tucson, Arizona. The marijuana was found in the trunk of the vehicle. A task force detective from eastern Kentucky reported that most of the marijuana transported into Kentucky comes through Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee. He also indicated that transporters formerly used large, older automobiles to transport marijuana into the area but now use compact cars. The Bowling Green Drug Task Force and the Owensboro Police Department reported that Mexican criminal groups use private vehicles and tractor-trailers to transport the drug into their areas.
Marijuana also is transported through Kentucky in airline cargo. In July 2000 a Louisville task force seized 7.3 kilograms of marijuana from a package delivery shipment. The package, destined for Aiken, South Carolina, had been shipped from Lawndale, California, through Louisville, Kentucky, where it was seized. A second package containing 14.1 kilograms of marijuana was shipped from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Boston, Massachusetts, through Louisville. The packages were heavily taped, addressed by hand, and shipped overnight from an unattended commercial package dropoff box. The marijuana was believed to be Mexico-produced, although its source could not be confirmed.
Local Caucasian criminal groups are the primary transporters of locally produced marijuana within the state and throughout the region. Cannabis grown in Kentucky reportedly is transported to the Midwest and East Coast in shipments averaging less than 20 pounds. Destinations include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Local independent Caucasians cultivate marijuana in the state and are the primary wholesale distributors of locally produced marijuana in Kentucky. The Bowling Green, Covington, and Lexington Police Departments report that local independent dealers who likely produce the drug sell wholesale quantities of marijuana in their jurisdictions. In addition, the Covington Police Department reports that African American criminal groups also distribute marijuana at the wholesale level in its jurisdiction. Caucasian local independent dealers also distribute some Mexico-produced marijuana often using it as filler for their product.
The same Mexican criminal groups that transport Mexico-produced marijuana into Kentucky distribute it at the wholesale level. These groups usually sell the marijuana to local Caucasian independent dealers who are the dominant retail distributors of Mexico-produced marijuana.
Local Caucasian independent dealers and, to a lesser extent, local gangs distribute both Mexico-produced and locally produced marijuana at the retail level in Kentucky. Most law enforcement agencies report that local Caucasian independent distributors between the ages of 20 and 30 are the primary marijuana retail distributors in the state. Although more than half of the law enforcement agencies responding to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000 indicated that local gangs distribute marijuana at the retail level, these local gangs appear to be secondary to local independent dealers as retail marijuana distributors. The Bowling Green, Covington, Lexington, and Owensboro Police Departments all report that local independent dealers dominate retail distribution in their jurisdictions. These dealers are often Caucasian males, according to a drug task force detective. Retail marijuana sales generally occur in private residences, bars, and restaurants in the state.
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