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Production

Mexican DTOs dominate the production of high-potency marijuana in the CBAG region; they typically establish large-scale, outdoor cannabis grow sites on public lands and private ranches throughout the area. According to law enforcement and intelligence reporting, Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in the CBAG region are using new cultivation methods that produce a plant ready for harvest within 90 days of planting. Accordingly, the number of plants eradicated from outdoor grow sites in San Diego County increased over 31 percent from 2006 to 2007. (See Table 2.)

Table 2. Number of Cannabis Plants Seized in San Diego County, 2005-2007*

Year 2005 2006 2007
Indoor 13,981 13,443 13,650
Outdoor 169,452 243,044 320,481
Total 183,433 256,487 334,131

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, as of January 23, 2008.
* Historically, law enforcement officers seized very few cannabis plants in Imperial County. No plants were seized in Imperial County from 2005 through 2007.

Indoor cannabis cultivation also is prevalent in San Diego County; Caucasian, Hispanic, and African American independent growers run small-scale cultivation operations in commercial properties and private residences typically located within suburban neighborhoods. The number of plants eradicated from indoor grow sites in San Diego County remained stable from 2006 to 2007. (See Table 2.)

Mexican DTOs have historically controlled many of California's superlabs and major methamphetamine production facilities; however, in recent years they have transferred most large-scale methamphetamine production operations to Mexico. As such, most ice methamphetamine available in the CBAG region is produced in Mexico. Domestic methamphetamine production decreased significantly from 2005 to 2007, as evidenced by sharply declining laboratory seizures. (See Table 3) The decrease in domestic laboratory activity can be attributed to regulatory efforts to control precursor chemical diversion, the influx of Mexican methamphetamine, and law enforcement efforts in the United States and Mexico.

Table 3. Number of Powder Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures, San Diego and Imperial Counties, 2005-2007

  2005 2006 2007
Chemical Only or Equipment Only 6 2 3
Dumpsite 0 1 1
Laboratory Seizure 15 7 6
Total Incidents 21 10 10

Source: National Seizure System, as of March 20, 2008.

Methamphetamine produced in the area is generally manufactured in small-scale laboratories and is intended for personal use or limited distribution. Ice conversion laboratories--in which powder methamphetamine is converted to ice--reportedly exist in the area but are limited. Additionally, Mexican DTOs reportedly smuggle precursor chemicals from Mexico into the CBAG region for distribution to laboratories in the region and throughout the United States; however, such smuggling activity has decreased as a result of a nationwide decline in large-scale domestic powder methamphetamine production and decreased availability of precursor chemicals in Mexico.

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Transportation

The CBAG region is a primary smuggling corridor through which Mexican DTOs transport large quantities of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin to wholesale markets within the CBAG region and throughout the United States. Most illicit drugs available in the CBAG region are transported from Mexico by traffickers in private and commercial vehicles through POEs along the California-Mexico border. Drug smuggling between POEs also is prevalent. The vast border area presents innumerable remote crossing points that traffickers exploit to smuggle illicit drugs, primarily marijuana, into the country from Mexico. These areas are easily breached by smugglers on foot, in private vehicles, or in all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)--particularly the mountainous areas in eastern San Diego County and the desert and sand dune areas in Imperial County. Once in the CBAG region, traffickers primarily use Interstates 5, 8, 15, and 805 to transport illicit drugs throughout and beyond the region.

Mexican DTOs use subterranean tunnels to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States; several new tunnels at the U.S.-Mexico border have recently been discovered by law enforcement officials. Approximately 33 tunnels have been discovered along the California-Mexico border since 1993--21 have been discovered in the past 2 years alone. (See Appendix A.) Use of tunnels is mostly limited to large-scale Mexican DTOs, because they have the resources and influence needed to organize, fund, and construct these tunnels.

Seven Tons of Marijuana Discovered in Tunnel

On December 3, 2007, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents in Tecate, California, found 7 tons of marijuana contained in 888 packages inside a 30-foot shipping container that had been placed over the opening of a 1,300-foot-long tunnel equipped with lighting and water extraction pumps. The tunnel originated in Mexico at a two-story warehouse approximately one block southwest of the Tecate POE and terminated in the United States at a fenced lot approximately one-quarter mile north of the international border. U.S. law enforcement authorities assigned to the Operation Alliance Tunnel Task Force (Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/USBP), coordinating with DEA personnel in Tijuana, Mexico, obtained the assistance of the Mexican military as well as the local Tecate Municipal Police to dismantle the tunnel.a

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, San Ysidro Field Office.
a. Despite the discovery of an increasing number of tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border in California, detecting deep tunnels is difficult for law enforcement officials. Ground-penetrating radar, along with surface sensors, is not effective if the tunnel is located several feet below the surface. However, such radar is effective in discovering tunnels that are just below surface level.

Mexican DTOs also use maritime means such as commercial and private watercraft to smuggle drugs, primarily cocaine and marijuana, into the CBAG region. Mexican traffickers typically use commercial and private marinas in San Diego County for maritime smuggling activities. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, most of the maritime drug seizures in the San Diego area involve small amounts of marijuana transported by independent smugglers who use small boats to transport the drug and, occasionally, combine a drug load with illegal aliens.

Mexican DTOs employ commercial and private aircraft as well as rail services to transport illicit drugs into and from the CBAG region. Drug traffickers transport drug shipments as air freight through the San Diego International Airport and the McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, California, or by couriers aboard passenger flights. Low-flying private aircraft use numerous privately owned "soft surface" runways in San Diego and Imperial Counties as they attempt to avoid radar detection while smuggling drugs into the region. Additionally, law enforcement reporting reveals that Mexican DTOs use commercial and passenger rail service to transport and distribute drugs to the CBAG region and throughout the United States. Mexican DTOs conceal illegal drugs in railcars that originate from the interior of Mexico. The railcars are stopped for inspection in Calexico, California, as they cross into the United States from Mexicali, Mexico, but inspectors generally do not have sufficient time to conduct more than a cursory inspection before the railcars must depart the inspection area. Once railcars clear the inspection area, they typically sit for a few hours at the Calexico rail yard before proceeding to subsequent destinations. At this point, illicit drugs are generally offloaded by traffickers--spotters relay the location of drug-laden railcars to other traffickers, who approach the railcars and abscond with the drugs.


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