Drug Intelligence Center
Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
Major Market Areas
The Arizona HIDTA region contains two major drug market areas, Phoenix and Tucson; these markets constitute the most significant areas of illicit drug trafficking and abuse within the HIDTA region.
The Phoenix metropolitan area is a regional- and national-level transportation and distribution center for methamphetamine and marijuana and a regional distribution center for other illicit drugs, primarily cocaine and Mexican black tar heroin. The area's transportation infrastructure facilitates the shipment of illicit drugs from Mexico to Phoenix for local distribution and transshipment to drug markets throughout the country, such as Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Nashville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Most of the illicit drugs available in the greater Phoenix area are produced in Mexico. Nonetheless, Caucasian criminal groups and independent dealers, OMGs, prison gangs and, to a lesser extent, Mexican criminal groups produce limited and decreasing quantities of methamphetamine in small-scale laboratories (less than 1 pound per production cycle) for distribution and use primarily within the Phoenix area. National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System (NCLSS) data indicate that the largest number of powder methamphetamine laboratories seized in Arizona were located in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix), followed by Pima County (which includes Tucson). All other counties statewide accounted for a much lower proportion of the seized powder methamphetamine laboratories. (See Table 3.)
Cannabis cultivation and marijuana production within the Phoenix area are limited but trending upward. Caucasian independent growers and dealers are the primary cannabis cultivators in Phoenix. They cultivate cannabis at both indoor and outdoor grow sites throughout the Phoenix area; however, only personal use amounts of marijuana are produced at these sites. Law enforcement reporting indicates that some local indoor cannabis growers use hydroponic techniques. According to DCE/SP data, law enforcement officers in Arizona reportedly seized 82,244 outdoor cannabis plants and 537 indoor cannabis plants in 2006, a significant portion of which were seized in the Phoenix area.
Mexican traffickers transport drugs across the Arizona-Mexico border at POEs or in remote, unmanned areas between POEs. Law enforcement reporting in Arizona historically indicates that smugglers tend to transport more valuable loads of cocaine, Mexican black tar heroin, and methamphetamine and larger shipments of marijuana at or near POEs to ensure that the load is directly shipped to the destination and to avoid losses. Recently, however, increased law enforcement pressure along the Arizona-Mexico border has forced traffickers to more frequently smuggle illicit drugs through Arizona's public lands, tribal lands, and remote areas between POEs (see Table 1 in Transportation section) or to shift routes by smuggling illicit drugs through California and Texas. For example, Mexican traffickers smuggle wholesale quantities of marijuana from Sonora, Mexico, into the Arizona HIDTA region through the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, whose northern border is within 20 miles of Phoenix. Law enforcement reporting indicates that when drug smugglers enter Arizona through the reservation, they typically transport illicit drugs north to Phoenix for distribution in that city or to Las Vegas and other market areas throughout the country, often using US 93. Many of these smugglers also now avoid using I-10 and I-40, which are heavily patrolled by law enforcement.
Mexican DTOs use familial ties and long-established relationships to maintain control over distribution groups in and around the Phoenix area. Mexican DTOs supply wholesale quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, Mexican black tar heroin, and marijuana to various street gangs, criminal groups, local independent dealers, OMGs, and prison gangs in the Phoenix area for further distribution. (See Table 4.) Most drug shipments from Mexico into the Phoenix area are intended for immediate distribution to these organizations; however, large quantities of illicit drugs--particularly marijuana and methamphetamine--are often stashed in houses, apartments, and other secured locations in the Phoenix area by Mexican traffickers before being made available to other distributors and before being transshipped to other drug markets. The Phoenix metropolitan area is a leading location for marijuana stash houses in the country. Phoenix Police Department reporting indicates that stash houses are increasingly located in areas surrounding the city--such as the West Valley and Mesa--to avoid rising real estate costs and increased law enforcement presence in Phoenix.
Street gangs are the primary retail-level distributors of illicit drugs in Phoenix; they typically distribute powder and crack cocaine, Mexican black tar heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. (See Table 5.) Street gangs pose a particular threat to the city because of their propensity to use violence to protect drug distribution operations. Mexican criminal groups and independent dealers, Caucasian criminal groups and independent dealers, OMGs, prison gangs, white supremacist groups, and Jamaican criminal groups also distribute retail quantities of illicit drugs in the area, albeit to a lesser extent.
Much of the violent and property crime in Phoenix is attributed to drug-related gang activities; however, in recent years, identity theft has become a significant concern to law enforcement officers and community leaders. Methamphetamine abusers within the HIDTA region are increasingly committing identity theft to acquire funds to pay for the drug. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Arizona ranked first in the number of identity theft victims per 100,000 residents in 2006. Of the 9,113 victims recorded that year, most (6,533) resided in the Phoenix/Scottsdale/Mesa, Arizona, area (which recorded 175.8 victim complaints per 100,000 residents). The individuals most frequently affected by identity theft are migrant illegal aliens seeking employment within the Phoenix area and older citizens. Criminals who commit identity theft often target migrant illegal aliens because they usually view those individuals as more vulnerable on account of language barriers or cultural differences; they also view older citizens as more trusting about sharing their personal information with strangers. Identity theft may be a particular problem in the HIDTA region because of the relatively lenient penalties that had been previously mandated for the offense in Arizona. However, legislation enacted in Arizona in 2005 and 2006 mandates stricter penalties for the crime and should help reduce the rate of identity theft in Phoenix in the future.
Tucson is a regional- and national-level distribution center for illicit drugs, particularly marijuana. Mexican DTOs exploit the area because of its proximity to Mexico. Tucson is located within 65 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border and is situated near the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, Coronado National Forest, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument--vast tracts of remote land commonly used by Mexican DTOs to transport illicit drugs to and through Arizona. Tucson's prime geographic location and its well-developed transportation infrastructure further position the city as a key distribution hub and stash location in the Southwest. In fact, law enforcement reporting and seizure data suggest that the prevalence of stash houses in the area is a direct result of Tucson's proximity to the border and its access to major interstates and secondary roadways.
Drug production within Tucson is generally limited; most drugs are smuggled into the area from Mexico. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers operate small-scale powder methamphetamine laboratories in which only ounce quantities of powder methamphetamine can be produced per production cycle. This limited production, however, is decreasing. (See Table 3.) Methamphetamine production in Pima County has declined in recent years because of the increased availability of low-cost Mexican methamphetamine, precursor chemical restrictions within the state, increased law enforcement presence, and public awareness campaigns. In anticipation of the Combat Meth Act, officials in Tucson created a municipal ordinance requiring that pseudoephedrine products be placed behind the counter and that consumers show identification before purchasing items that contain pseudoephedrine.
Mexican DTOs transport large quantities of cocaine, Mexican black tar heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana from Sonora, Mexico, into the city along major roadways. Mexican traffickers also extensively use national parks, monuments, and forests, as well as tribal lands located along the Arizona-Mexico border to move illicit drugs into the Tucson area for distribution within the city or for transportation to other drug markets throughout the country. Tucson is a primary transshipment area for illicit drugs because of its proximity to Mexico and its extensive highway system, which connects to I-8 and I-10, major east-west interstates. Mexican traffickers also transport drugs to Tucson for consolidation prior to distribution to other drug markets, as evidenced by the high number of stash houses discovered by law enforcement in and around the city. Furthermore, Tucson's proximity to several secondary POEs influences the level of trafficking through the area. For instance, drug smugglers consolidate smaller drug shipments (20 to 30 kg) into larger loads in Mexican towns such as Agua Prieta, Cananea, Naco, Nogales, and Sonoita before transporting the drugs across the border, often traveling through and between less-monitored secondary POEs. These larger loads are then transported through Tucson en route to other markets, including Atlanta; Chicago, Illinois; New York, New York; and St. Louis, Missouri.
Mexican DTOs are the primary distributors of all major illicit drugs into, through, and from the Tucson area. These groups sell wholesale to retail quantities of cocaine, Mexican black tar heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine to numerous groups associated with them or operating on their behalf. In addition, anecdotal reporting suggests that Mexican DTOs increasingly use illegal Mexican immigrants to distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine in the Tucson area and provide wholesale quantities of illicit drugs to Jamaican criminal groups and OMGs for further wholesale distribution. (See Table 6.)
Mexican and other wholesale-level distributors typically provide illicit drugs to street gangs, Mexican criminal groups, Caucasian criminal groups, and local independent dealers for retail distribution. They also provide additional quantities of illicit drugs to OMGs, Jamaican criminal groups, and prison gangs for distribution, but to a lesser extent. In the case of methamphetamine, wholesale distributors transport the drug to the Phoenix metropolitan area and redistribute it to other distributors in Tucson. From Tucson the drug is redistributed in Sierra Vista. (See Table 7.)
Drug-related gang activity and violent crime pose an increasing concern within the Tucson metropolitan area. Law enforcement reporting indicates that gang activity in the Tucson metropolitan area is increasing, most likely as a result of the relocation of gang members from California. The Arizona Department of Public Safety Gang Intelligence and Immigration Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM) reports that a few particularly violent street and prison gangs are distributing illicit drugs in Tucson, heightening the level of drug-related crime. In fact, GIITEM and the Arizona Counter Narcotics Alliance report an increased level of violence, particularly homicides, in Tucson that is attributed to increased drug trafficking activities and the rising number of gang members who operate in the area.
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