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Production

Local methamphetamine production and the conversion of methamphetamine oilc or liquid methamphetamined into ice methamphetamine pose the greatest drug production threat to the Atlanta HIDTA region. Law enforcement reporting and laboratory seizure data indicate increasing methamphetamine production in the region, principally by Caucasian traffickers. According to National Seizure System (NSS) data, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the region increased from 16 in 2008 to 26 in 2009; most of these laboratories were seized in North Carolina.e (See Table A1 in Appendix A.) Increased production is attributed to the rising popularity of the one-pot production method and the abundance of pseudoephedrine smurfing operations. Law enforcement organizations in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee plan to implement a multistate, electronic pseudoephedrine tracking database in 2010 to counter pseudoephedrine smurfing and increasing methamphetamine production.f However, members of pseudoephedrine smurfing operations often use stolen and false identification to circumvent pseudoephedrine tracking laws.

Methamphetamine conversion laboratories in the Atlanta HIDTA region, operated by Mexican DTOs, finish the production cycle begun in Mexico. Methamphetamine oil or liquid methamphetamine is typically transported from Mexico through the Southwest Border area into the Atlanta HIDTA region, usually Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, where it is converted into ice methamphetamine. To illustrate, in October 2009, federal agents seized more than 174 pounds of ice methamphetamine from a methamphetamine conversion laboratory in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Mexican DTOs transport methamphetamine in oil and liquid form in an effort to avoid law enforcement detection. Methamphetamine oil and liquid can be easily concealed inside the windshield washer reservoirs and coolant reservoirs of certain vehicles, as well as in beverage containers such as juice and beer bottles. The presence of methamphetamine conversion laboratories in Atlanta is most likely due to Mexican DTOs using the region as a distribution center.

Most cannabis cultivated in the Atlanta HIDTA region is grown at outdoor sites. Many outdoor cannabis grow sites are secreted by traffickers on public lands and parks among other vegetation to hinder law enforcement detection and to prevent the seizure of private property if discovered. The number of cannabis plants eradicated from outdoor grow sites in Georgia and North Carolina decreased 28 percent from 2008 through 2009. (See Table 2.)

Eradication data and law enforcement reporting suggest that indoor cannabis cultivation is increasing in Georgia and North Carolina. According to Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data, the number of plants eradicated from indoor grows sites in Georgia and North Carolina increased more than 98 percent from 2008 (4,329 plants) through 2009 (8,575 plants).g (See Table 2.) Some marijuana producers prefer to cultivate cannabis indoors to avoid law enforcement detection and to increase the quality of the marijuana produced. The controlled environment, combined with sophisticated growing techniques such as hydroponics, typically yields high-potency marijuana that commands a higher price than commercial-grade marijuana. In Atlanta, high-potency marijuana sold for $3,000 to $7,000 per pound and Mexican commercial-grade marijuana sold for $400 to $1,000 per pound in 2009. In March 2010, Atlanta law enforcement officers seized more than 700 cannabis plants, which would have produced an estimated $1.2 million worth of high-potency marijuana, from an indoor grow site at an Atlanta residence.

Table 2. Cannabis Plants Eradicated at Outdoor and Indoor Grow Sites in Georgia and North Carolina, 2005-2009

  Outdoor Indoor
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Georgia 27,067 64,995 11,851 47,607 43,880 642 1,610 9,585 2,840 5,836
North Carolina 68,491 99,379 15,115 103,711 64,555 2,391 2,110 1,253 1,489 2,739
Total 95,558 164,374 26,966 151,318 108,435 3,033 3,720 10,838 4,329 8,575

Source: Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.

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Transportation

The Atlanta HIDTA region has a highly accessible transportation system, including major roadways that link it to the Southwest Border and major eastern U.S. drug markets. Drug traffickers routinely exploit this system to transport large quantities of powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and commercial-grade marijuana, as well as smaller quantities of heroin, into the region and bulk cash from the region.

Overland transportation in private, rental, and commercial vehicles is the most common method used to move illicit drugs and bulk cash proceeds into, through, and from the Atlanta HIDTA region. Most drugs are transported into the region using major interstate highways, particularly Interstates 10, 20, and 40. Bulk cash shipments from the sale of illicit drugs in eastern drug markets are consolidated in Atlanta and transported to Mexico along the same routes. Additionally, illicit drugs in relatively small quantities are regularly transported by passengers on commercial bus lines originating from the Southwest Border area. Commercial buses provide traffickers with a means to transport drugs and bulk cash that are typically placed in unmarked luggage so that couriers can disavow ownership of the contraband and not face arrest. Some traffickers, however, transport drugs and bulk cash on their person when traveling on commercial buses. For example, in February 2010, Houston police intercepted a Guadalajara, Mexico, resident who was traveling from Atlanta to Mexico aboard a commercial bus with $50,000 in bulk cash sewn into his shorts.

Figure 2. Atlanta Metropolitan Area Transportation Infrastructure

 Map of the Atlanta metropolitan area transportation infrastructure.
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Figure 3. North Carolina Counties in the Atlanta HIDTA Transportation Infrastructure

Map showing the North Carolina Counties in the Atlanta HIDTA transportation infrastructure.
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Traffickers also use other methods to transport drugs into and through the region, including couriers on commercial flights and package delivery services. High-potency marijuana from the West Coast, usually northern California, is regularly transported to Atlanta by package delivery services. Package delivery services are also used to transport khat, MDMA, and, sometimes, cocaine, to Atlanta. Traffickers can track a package via the Internet and are quickly notified if the package has been delayed or seized by law enforcement. The Atlanta HIDTA region is also a transit area for drug shipments to other areas of the country. In January 2010, workers at a Clayton County shipping company identified four suspicious packages destined for residences in Delaware transiting through the Atlanta HIDTA region with fictitious sender addresses in Texas. The packages contained a combined 320 pounds of marijuana.


Footnotes

c. Methamphetamine oil is an unfinished product that needs to be converted into a usable powder or crystal through a chemical process.

d. Liquid methamphetamine is powder methamphetamine that has been dissolved in water to disguise it and will return to a usable powder form once the water evaporates.

e. Most methamphetamine abusers in North Carolina prefer to produce ounce quantities of methamphetamine for personal use and will purchase the drug from Mexican traffickers as a last resort.

f. North Carolina currently has pseudoephedrine tracking laws; however, the information is maintained in written logs at the point of sale.

g. Atlanta HIDTA officials report that fluctuations in the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year are frequently the result of available eradication resources and are not necessarily indicative of a change in the amount of cannabis cultivated.


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