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Indoor Cultivation Trends

Indoor cannabis cultivation continues at high levels--the result of traffickers attempting to avoid heightened detection and eradication of outdoor grow sites and to gain higher profits by trafficking higher-grade marijuana. The number of indoor cannabis grow sites seized and indoor cannabis plants eradicated by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies has increased significantly since 2004 (see Table 1 in National Cannabis Cultivation Trends section). Many cultivators, particularly Caucasian groups, have relocated or established their operations indoors because of the reduced risk of law enforcement detection in comparison with outdoor grows, which are being increasingly targeted by vigorous outdoor cannabis eradication operations. Caucasian criminal groups are increasing their indoor operations in many states, particularly California and Tennessee. Indoor cannabis cultivators are able to generate higher profit margins from indoor-produced marijuana, since controlled growing conditions at indoor sites generally yield higher-potency marijuana. For example, the wholesale price for domestic high-potency marijuana ranges from $2,500 to $6,000 per pound in Los Angeles, California, while the wholesale price for midgrade marijuana is approximately $750 per pound, according to the Los Angeles County Regional Criminal Information Clearinghouse (LACLEAR). Additionally, indoor cannabis cultivators are able to cultivate year-round with four to six harvests a year, compared with the one or two harvests a year typical of outdoor cultivation.

Asian DTOs and criminal groups have increased their indoor cannabis cultivation operations in many states; some of these groups are linked in a nationwide criminal network. Asian criminal groups, including some that have relocated from Canada to the United States, have established cannabis cultivation operations throughout the United States. Recent law enforcement reporting reveals that Asian DTOs and criminal groups expanded indoor cultivation operations in 2007 in several areas of the country, including southern and eastern states. Some Asian DTOs that operate grow sites in western states are linked organizationally to groups in other regions of the country, suggesting coordination among some Asian DTOs cultivating cannabis in separate regions of the country.

Indoor cannabis cultivation sites operated by Cuban DTOs and criminal groups are prevalent in the Southeast region of the United States--primarily in Florida. Law enforcement and intelligence sources indicate that the primary threat regarding marijuana production in Florida is attributed to Cuban-operated indoor cultivation sites. Cuban immigrants are often exploited by DTOs and criminal groups to cultivate high-potency cannabis, which is sold for approximately $4,500 per pound. In fact, law enforcement reporting indicates an increase in the seizure of indoor cannabis grow operations for the cultivation of high-potency marijuana; according to DCE/SP, the number of indoor grow sites seized in Florida rose each year between 2004 (246 plots) and 2008 (1,022 plots) (see Table 3 and Figure 2.) Cuban-operated cannabis cultivation sites are most pervasive in southern Florida, but have expanded northward throughout Florida. Since 2001, these groups have extended their operations even farther northward into the neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina to avoid increasing law enforcement scrutiny and to be closer to drug markets.

Table 3. Number of Indoor Grow Sites and Plants Eradicated in Florida, 2004-2008

Year Indoor Grow Sites Indoor Plants Seized
2004 246 21,879
2005 384 45,217
2006 480 36,172
2007 944 74,698
2008 1,022 78,489

Source: Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.

Figure 2. Cannabis Plants Eradicated From Indoor Grows in Florida, by County, 2008

Map showing the number of cannabis plants eradicated from indoor grows in Florida, by County, in 2008.

The production of hashish and hash oil may become increasingly common as demand for marijuana products with higher THC content increases. Rising demand by marijuana users for high-potency marijuana could result in increased domestic production of hashish and hash oil that typically have much higher THC content than marijuana. Production of hashish and hash oil is limited in the United States and appears to be largely concentrated in western states, particularly California. National Seizure System (NSS) data show only 19 THC-extraction and hash oil laboratory seizures in the United States in 2002 through 2008. However, some law enforcement officials believe that hashish production and hash oil laboratories may be underreported in the United States because such laboratories have rarely been encountered in the past and, as such, are not easily identifiable. Expanded production of hashish and hash oil could yield very high profits for criminal groups. For example, LACLEAR reports that the price for high-potency sinsemilla ranges from $2,500 to $6,000 per pound in southern California, compared with hashish that sells for $8,000 per pound.

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