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Strategic Drug Threat Developments

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HIDTA Overview

The Appalachia HIDTA consists of 71 counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.2 The HIDTA was established in 1998 and originally encompassed 68 counties. In February 2008 the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced the designation of three additional counties to the HIDTA region--Letcher County, Kentucky, and Hamilton and Washington Counties, Tennessee. (See Figure 1.) According to Appalachia HIDTA officials, Letcher County was added to the region because of the significant amount of cannabis cultivation that occurs in the county, while Hamilton and Washington Counties were added because of the extensive polydrug distribution that traffickers undertake in the counties.

High levels of outdoor cannabis cultivation typically occur in the Appalachia HIDTA region, usually aided by favorable growing climates and the presence of well-organized DTOs and criminal groups. However, late frosts and severe drought conditions throughout the southeastern United States in 2007 caused a sharp decrease in the amount of cannabis cultivated and eradicated in the Appalachia HIDTA region during the year. Appalachia HIDTA officials also report that fluctuations in the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year are frequently the result of available eradication assets and not necessarily indicative of a change in the amount of cannabis cultivated in the region. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data for 2007 indicate that 93 percent (6,135,560 of 6,599,381) of outdoor cannabis plants eradicated in the United States were eradicated in only seven states--California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia (commonly referred to as the Marijuana Seven, or M7, states); the Appalachia HIDTA region is composed of portions of three of these seven states--Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.3

A relatively high poverty rate throughout much of the Appalachia HIDTA region contributes to an acceptance of cannabis cultivation by many local residents.4 In some Appalachia HIDTA counties, a large portion of the population lives in poverty. Some residents in impoverished communities regard marijuana production as a necessary means of supplementing low incomes. For instance, the poverty rate in Bell County, Kentucky, was 35.4 percent in 2005 (the latest year for which such data are available), much higher than the national poverty rate of 12.3 percent for that year. Moreover, eradication data show that Bell County had one of the highest levels of outdoor cannabis eradication in the state from 2005 through 2007. (See Table 1 in Appendix A.) In many of these communities cannabis cultivation is often a multigenerational trade, as young family members are introduced to the trade by older members who have produced marijuana for many years.

The Appalachia HIDTA region has a highly accessible transportation system (see Figure 2), including major roadways that link it to many drug markets in the eastern United States,5 including Atlanta, Georgia, the primary drug distribution center for the Appalachia HIDTA region; Columbus, Ohio; and Detroit, Michigan. Drug traffickers exploit the region's geographic location between these areas to transport illicit drugs into, through, and from the HIDTA region.

End Notes

1. The Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) reports that Columbus has emerged as a regional distribution center for Mexican brown powder and black tar heroin supplied to markets throughout much of Ohio as well as West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
2. The Appalachia HIDTA is composed of the following 71 counties: (Kentucky) Adair, Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Marion, McCreary, Monroe, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Taylor, Warren, Wayne, and Whitley; (Tennessee) Bledsoe, Campbell, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Cumberland, Fentress, Franklin, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Macon, Marion, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Rhea, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Unicoi, Van Buren, Washington, and White; (West Virginia) Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Gilmer, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne.
3. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data are available only at the state level; thus, the number of cannabis plants eradicated and seized reflects the entire states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, not just the Appalachia HIDTA region.
4. The Appalachia HIDTA reports that along with the high rates of poverty in the region, it also contends with high rates of unemployment, adult illiteracy, fragmented families, teenage pregnancy, public corruption, and an established tradition of "moonshining." These conditions have resulted in an acceptance of illegal drug activities by some individuals in the region.
5. For purposes of this report, the eastern United States consists of Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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