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Production

Small-scale methamphetamine laboratories pose the most significant drug production threat to the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Law enforcement reporting and laboratory seizure data indicate increasing methamphetamine production in the region, principally by Caucasian traffickers. According to NSS data, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the region increased from 241 in 2008 to 297 in 2009, with the most notable increases occurring in Mississippi and Louisiana. (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. In response to pseudoephedrine smurfing and increasing methamphetamine production, the state legislatures in Alabama and Mississippi have enacted tighter regulations on the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.c (See text box.)

Pending Pseudoephedrine and Ephedrine Legislation in Alabama and Mississippi

Alabama legislation, which becomes effective January 1, 2011, will require retailers to record all pseudoephedrine or ephedrine product transactions in a statewide electronic database. The database will automatically track the daily and monthly amounts of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine purchased by an individual and will advise the retailer to either approve or reject the sale. A retailer who completes a sale despite being advised to reject it could be found in violation of the law and punished with a misdemeanor offense for the first two failures to comply and a felony charge for any subsequent violation. The database is expected to be operational in 2011.

Mississippi legislation, which becomes effective July 1, 2010, requires a prescription for any product containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. The legislation effectively amends the Mississippi Code of 1972 to include these chemicals as Schedule III controlled substances. Mississippi is the second state, after Oregon, to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products. Data from Oregon suggest that this legislation will lead to decreased methamphetamine production in Mississippi. After similar legislation was enacted in Oregon in 2006, methamphetamine production and methamphetamine-related crimes decreased. For example, from 2005 through 2008, Oregon officials reported a 92 percent decrease in the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized, a 22 percent decrease in property crime, and a 7 percent decrease in violent crime.

Eradication data and law enforcement reporting indicate that indoor cannabis cultivation is increasing in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. According to Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data, the number of plants eradicated from indoor grow sites in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi increased nearly 160 percent from 2,518 plants in 2008 to 6,540 plants in 2009. (See Table A1 in Appendix A.) Most indoor grow sites in the region are operated by Caucasian traffickers. Large indoor grow sites in Alabama, however, are increasingly operated by Cuban and Mexican traffickers who have ties to similar operations in Florida. Cuban traffickers have been expanding indoor cannabis cultivation operations from southern Florida into the Southeast for several years. Cuban-operated indoor grow sites seized recently in Alabama appear to be part of this expansion. Law enforcement officers report that 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.

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Transportation

The Gulf Coast HIDTA region is the primary transportation corridor used by Mexican DTOs to move illicit drugs from sources of supply in the Southwest Border area and Mexico to eastern drug markets, particularly Atlanta. (See Figure 1 in HIDTA Overview section.) Traffickers use private and commercial vehicles, generally rigged with hidden compartments, to transport illicit drugs into and through the region along major highways, particularly Interstates 10, 20, 30, and 40. Bulk cash shipments from the sale of illicit drugs in eastern drug markets are also transported through the region to Mexico along these same routes. Additionally, illicit drugs, in relatively small quantities, are regularly transported by passengers on commercial bus lines originating from the Southwest Border area.

Traffickers also use other methods to transport drugs into and throughout the region, including couriers on commercial flights, rail lines, package delivery services and, increasingly, maritime conveyances. For example, in July 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized 994 pounds of powder cocaine commingled with bags of Colombian coffee aboard a cargo vessel in the Port of New Orleans. The vessel was laded in Panama. Additionally, several packages containing illicit drugs were found washed up along the Gulf Coast shoreline in 2009.


Footnote

c. Pseudoephedrine is a Schedule V drug in Arkansas and Louisiana, and both states have pseudoephedrine tracking laws.


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