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Illicit drug production in the Atlanta HIDTA region primarily involves the conversion of powder cocaine to crack cocaine, cannabis cultivation, and small-scale powder methamphetamine production. Crack conversion is a significant concern to law enforcement officials because it is associated with high levels of abuse, property crime, and related violence. Retail-level crack cocaine distributors, generally African American criminal groups and street gangs, convert powder cocaine to crack at various locations, including crack houses and stash houses. Once the powder cocaine is converted to crack, it is broken into small pieces, or rocks, and distributed in the neighborhoods where it was produced. Moreover, many crack cocaine distributors are selling loose rocks of crack without packaging; the absence of packaging most likely indicates that the drug was recently converted.

Most of the marijuana available in the Atlanta HIDTA region is produced in Mexico or Canada, but some is grown locally at outdoor and indoor grow sites. Most cannabis cultivated in Georgia is grown at outdoor sites.6 Many outdoor cannabis grow sites are secreted by traffickers on public lands and parks to prevent the seizure of private property if discovered, and individual cannabis plants are often spread among other vegetation to hinder law enforcement detection. A severe drought in the southeastern United States in 2007 may have affected outdoor cannabis cultivation that year. According to Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data, approximately 11,851 cultivated cannabis plants were eradicated from 323 outdoor grow sites in Georgia in 2007.7 Nonetheless, HIDTA officials 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 state.

Indoor cannabis cultivation has increased in the Atlanta HIDTA region, mainly the result of large-scale indoor cannabis cultivation sites operated by Cuban DTOs; small-scale indoor grow sites--producing quantities of marijuana for personal use and limited retail distribution--are operated by independent cultivators of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and Hispanics. These DTOs and independent cultivators establish indoor grow sites because of Atlanta's urban environment, to avoid law enforcement scrutiny, and to exert greater control over the cannabis-growing process. Law enforcement officials report that many significant investigations targeted indoor cannabis cultivators in 2007. Consequently, the number of cultivated plants eradicated from indoor grow operations in Georgia increased significantly from 2006 through 2007. (See Table 2.) Most of the indoor cannabis grow sites in the area in 2007 were established and operated by Cuban DTOs; much of the high-potency marijuana produced at these sites was sold by Cuban DTOs to Dominican DTOs in New York. Cuban DTOs have cultivated high-potency cannabis at indoor grow sites in southeastern states--primarily in southern Florida--for several years. Cannabis cultivation by Cuban DTOs has advanced from the operation of limited grows for relatively small profit by independent Cuban groups to a seemingly coordinated effort by these groups to operate large-scale indoor cannabis grow sites. In fact, law enforcement reporting indicates that many--perhaps most--of the Cuban DTO-operated indoor cannabis cultivation sites in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina may be linked to a single Florida-based Cuban DTO. To this end, an extensive HIDTA-supported investigation resulted in the arrest of 25 suspected members of the Florida-based Cuban DTO and the seizure of more than 8,000 pounds of cannabis plants from 44 active indoor grow sites in August 2007. These arrests will quite likely affect the Florida-based Cuban DTO's ability to operate in the Atlanta HIDTA region.

Table 2. Indoor Cannabis Plants Eradicated and Grow Sites Seized in Georgia, 2003-2007

  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Plants eradicated 223 616 642 1,610 9,585
Grow Sites Seized 6 12 1 8 104

Source: Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, run date March 4, 2008.

Small-scale powder methamphetamine production takes place in Georgia and the Atlanta HIDTA region; however, state-enacted restrictions on the sale of precursor chemicals such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have led to a sharp decrease in local methamphetamine production. According to National Seizure System (NSS) data, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the HIDTA counties in Georgia fluctuated but decreased overall from 2003 through 2007 (see Table 3); most of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in the Atlanta HIDTA region during this period were discovered in Bartow and Cobb Counties. Local powder methamphetamine producers, who frequently are also abusers, now commonly obtain Mexican ice methamphetamine from local distributors rather than produce the drug themselves.

Table 3. Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures in Georgia, 2003-2007

Area 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Atlanta HIDTA Region (Barrow, Bartow, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Henry Counties in Georgia) 24 29 29 14 3
Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (16 of 28 counties: Butts, Carroll, Coweta, Dawson, Haralson, Heard, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Newton, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Rockdale, Spalding, and Walton) 15 19 18 15 5
Georgia (remaining counties) 139 166 157 82 38
Total for All Counties 178 214 204 111 46

Source: National Seizure System, run date April 14, 2008.

End Notes

6. Cannabis eradication data are available only at the state level; thus, the number of cannabis plants and grow sites eradicated and seized reflects the entire state of Georgia, not just the Atlanta HIDTA region.
7. The Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) changed the methodology for collecting data in 2007 by adding eradication totals from public land agencies. Therefore, 2007 data from outdoor operations cannot be compared with previous years' data.

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