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Drug Threat Overview

Ice methamphetamine trafficking and abuse pose the most significant drug threats to the Hawaii HIDTA region. Hawaii has one of the largest ice methamphetamine user populations per capita in the nation, a factor that many law enforcement and health and human services personnel believe is the major cause of the state's rate of property crime and violent crime. High-potency marijuana production, distribution, and abuse are secondary drug threats to Hawaii. Marijuana is widely available; demand continues to increase, especially among younger users who, along with a large segment of the local population, view marijuana use as normal. Powder and crack cocaine trafficking and abuse are a lesser concern in the region. Although powder cocaine prices have trended upward since 2006, no decrease in the availability of the drug has been reported. The trafficking and abuse of other dangerous drugs (ODDs) and Mexican black tar heroin and brown powder heroin are limited and represent low threats to the HIDTA region. Diverted controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) are a growing threat, according to law enforcement officials in the HIDTA region.

Ice methamphetamine is the greatest threat to the region due to its prevalent availability and high rates of abuse. Each law enforcement agency in the Hawaii HIDTA region responding to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2008 identified methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in its jurisdiction and further indicated that methamphetamine was the drug most often associated with property crime and violent crime. Methamphetamine abuse is increasingly reported as a contributing factor in incidents of child and domestic abuse, hostage situations, and homicides throughout the state. Methamphetamine is identified more often than any other drug, including alcohol, as the primary substance of abuse for treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Hawaii.

Methamphetamine Threat from Oceania and the Pacific Rim

Increasing ice methamphetamine production in Oceania and Pacific Rim countries poses a growing threat to Hawaii. The island nations of Oceania, well-known for lax criminal penalties for illicit drug production and money laundering, are struggling with criminal groups that are seeking safe havens to operate in. Hawaii HIDTA law enforcement and intelligence reporting indicates that organized criminal groups are financing large-scale clandestine ice methamphetamine production laboratories in Oceania and Pacific Rim countries and that an increasing amount of that ice methamphetamine is transported to Hawaii.

Source: Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Mexican DTOs and local criminal groups regularly transport wholesale quantities of high-purity Mexican ice methamphetamine from the West Coast and from traditional production areas in California for distribution and consumption in Hawaii. In 2008, HIDTA law enforcement officers seized nearly 90 pounds of ice methamphetamine with an estimated wholesale market value of more than $6.9 million.

Marijuana distribution and abuse are widespread in the Hawaii HIDTA region. This situation results from rising demand, increased availability of high-potency marijuana, and exploitation of Hawaii's state medical marijuana laws by local cannabis cultivators and drug traffickers. Hawaii is one of the principal cannabis cultivation and marijuana production areas in the nation.4 The island's tropical climate is conducive to year-round outdoor growing. Drug traffickers are also increasingly involved in indoor cultivation to produce higher-potency cannabis plants. Most of the marijuana available in Hawaii is produced there for local consumption; however, HIDTA officials report that Mexican and Asian DTOs and local criminal groups also transport high-potency marijuana produced in California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada to the state to meet growing demand.

Other illicit drugs and diverted CPDs are available and abused in the HIDTA region, but to a lesser extent than methamphetamine and marijuana. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups supply powder cocaine to the area, where it is then converted to crack cocaine by local retail distributors. Although wholesale prices for powder cocaine in Hawaii have been trending upward since 2006, law enforcement officials report that availability remained stable in 2008 and was still comparable with 2006 levels. Mexican black tar heroin and brown powder heroin are distributed by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, while MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) is supplied primarily by Asian DTOs and criminal groups. These same trafficking groups may also have been attempting to introduce other stimulants and hallucinogens to the region. For example, in October 2008 the Honolulu Airport Interdiction Task Force seized a parcel package of more than 900 tablets that contained a combination of BZP (N-benzylpiperazine) and TFMPP (1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine).5 Distributors and abusers commonly divert CPDs such as benzodiazepines, hydrocodone, and oxycodone through doctor-shopping, drug thefts, prescription forgeries, and Internet purchases. The ease with which drug traffickers and abusers obtain CPDs through the Internet is a significant concern for law enforcement officials and public health treatment providers in the HIDTA region.

Operation Weed Killer

In November 2008 Maui law enforcement officials arrested seven men for violating state medical marijuana laws through their association with a local medical marijuana dispensary. Officers seized 335 cannabis plants, 2,300 grams of processed marijuana, 4,830 grams of unprocessed marijuana, 32 grams of hashish, 100 marijuana-laced candies, associated drug paraphernalia, one vehicle, and $14,085 in cash.

Source: Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs are the principal illicit drug transporters and wholesale distributors in the Hawaii HIDTA region. Their expansive drug distribution networks enable them to consistently supply Hawaii with wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine, powder cocaine, black tar heroin, and brown powder heroin. Mexican DTOs typically focus their efforts on wholesale-level sales, supplying smaller Mexican and Asia-Pacific mixed-race DTOs that distribute drugs at the midlevel and retail level throughout the state. Mexican DTO members who are based in Hawaii typically operate in areas with higher concentrations of Hispanic residents, particularly Honolulu and Maui Counties, to more easily assimilate into the local community and avoid law enforcement detection.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

Asian DTOs (typically ethnic Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Thai, or Vietnamese) operate throughout the HIDTA region. No particular ethnic group is dominant over the others. The drug trafficking threat that they pose to the area is secondary when compared with the threat posed by Mexican DTOs because of their lack of well-established distribution networks. Asian DTOs typically restrict involvement in their drug trafficking operations to individuals of similar race/ethnicity and familial affiliation. Asian DTOs transport wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine from sources in California and Asia, MDMA from sources in Canada and Asia, and high-potency marijuana from sources in Canada and the West Coast.

Local distributors, including street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), are the primary retail distributors of illicit drugs in the Hawaii HIDTA region. Some members of these groups also produce marijuana grown locally in Hawaii. These groups typically comprise native Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Hispanic, and Caucasian individuals who were born and raised in Hawaii and share either familial or close social ties. The diversity of these groups facilitates close working relationships with other DTOs (Asian, Mexican, and Polynesian) that supply them with drugs, presenting serious challenges for law enforcement investigations.


4. In 2005, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with other federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies, identified California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia as the primary marijuana cultivation areas in the United States. They are commonly referred to as the M7 states.
5. BZP is a common name for the synthetic stimulant N-benzylpiperazine. BZP tablets, especially those that also contain the hallucinogen TFMPP (1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine), are often sold as MDMA or promoted as an alternative to MDMA.

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