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Outdoor cannabis cultivation is widespread throughout the state and continues to occur at high levels. The number of outdoor plants eradicated in the state fell from 131,355 in 2007 to 102,398 in 2008 and 47,159 in 2009. These decreases are largely attributed to constraints placed upon law enforcement eradication efforts, particularly on the Big Island. (See text box.) The Hawaiian Islands are one of the principal cannabis cultivation and marijuana production areas in the nation. Cannabis has been cultivated outdoors in Hawaii for decades because the tropical climate is conducive to year-round cultivation. Cannabis grown outdoors in Hawaii contains some of the highest THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in the nation because of the optimal growing conditions, nutrient- and mineral-rich volcanic soil, and advances in hybridization techniques. Law enforcement reporting indicates that most outdoor cannabis cultivation takes place on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, particularly in areas controlled by the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources in Hawaii and Maui Counties.

Cannabis Eradication on the Big Island

In May 2008, the Hawaii County Council on the Big Island voted not to accept federal funding from the Drug Enforcement Administration's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) for state and local law enforcement aerial surveillance and eradication. The council cited complaints from many residents who reportedly opposed the program because low-flying helicopter missions would violate their privacy and disrupt rural life. The Council also established a county ordinance (Hawaii County Code, Section 14, Article 16) making cannabis the lowest drug priority for law enforcement officers. Consequently, state and local law enforcement agencies have been severely constrained in their efforts to effectively monitor and remove illicit grows.

Indoor cannabis cultivation persists in Hawaii because growers can control conditions to produce high-potency marijuana, which commands premium prices in most drug markets. Indoor cannabis cultivators typically use advanced growing techniques that include lighting, irrigation systems, chemical fertilizers, and plant cloning. Indoor grow sites typically average fewer plants than outdoor grows and range in size from a single closet to entire houses or larger buildings that are converted into advanced grow operations. Annual seizures of indoor cannabis plants in Hawaii have varied greatly over the past 5 years, ranging from a low of 373 in 2008 to a high of 12,358 in 2006. Caucasian and Asian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary producers of high-potency marijuana from indoor cannabis cultivation sites.

Law enforcement officials have reported an influx of criminal groups and independent growers from the West Coast who are relocating to Hawaii to establish illicit cannabis cultivation operations at both outdoor and indoor grows. These growers are motivated by the greater profits associated with high-potency marijuana and the misguided perception that there is minimal risk of detection and prosecution for illegally cultivating cannabis in the state because of reduced eradication efforts and the widespread abuse of state medical marijuana laws. Law enforcement officials report that they often find medical marijuana certificates while serving search and arrest warrants but seize far greater amounts of marijuana than allowed by law, in addition to other illicit drugs and weapons.

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Drug traffickers exploit Hawaii's heavy reliance on the importation of consumer goods by air and maritime conveyances to transport illicit drugs to the state. Most illicit drugs are transported into the Honolulu International Airport on Oahu through the international postal facility or by couriers aboard commercial flights. While most of the illicit drugs transported to Oahu are abused there, some drugs are transported on interisland flights to neighboring islands for subsequent distribution. Additionally, six of the eight islands have direct flight service to and from major cities on the U.S. mainland, Asia, and Canada.

The maritime conveyance of illicit drugs in transit to and from the U.S. mainland is perhaps the most significant intelligence gap with regard to the drug situation in Hawaii and a great concern among federal, state, and local law enforcement. Hawaii's system of commercial harbors consists of 10 harbors on six islands through which the majority of the commercial goods are imported to Hawaii. Limited information and resources make detection and interdiction efforts at these facilities extremely challenging for U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement officials. Anecdotal law enforcement information indicates that illicit drugs are being shipped in containerized cargo bound for Hawaii; however, relatively few seizures have been made.

Hawaii is also a transshipment point for ice methamphetamine en route to locations in Oceania, Guam, Saipan, and other U.S. territories in the Pacific. Direct connections to Pacific Rim countries and Southeast Asia are also used, although to a lesser extent. Additionally, Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States are at risk for the importation of ice methamphetamine produced in Oceania and Pacific Rim countries. 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.

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