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NDIC seal linked to Home page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Florida Drug Threat Assessment
July 2003

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most widely available and frequently abused illicit drug in Florida. Most of the marijuana available in Florida is produced in Jamaica or Mexico. Significant quantities of marijuana also are produced in Florida and other U.S. states--particularly California and southwestern states--as well as in Canada and Colombia. Marijuana frequently is smuggled to Florida from Jamaica aboard maritime vessels, on private or commercial aircraft, or via package delivery services. Marijuana also is transported from Canada, Mexico, and southwestern states in private vehicles, trucks, via package delivery services, and by couriers or air cargo shipments on commercial airlines. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups or groups working on their behalf use the same methods to transport marijuana south from New York into Florida and use couriers or cargo shipments on commercial airlines to smuggle marijuana from South America. Jacksonville and Miami are regional distribution centers for wholesale and retail quantities of marijuana. Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups are the most prominent wholesale distributors of marijuana in Florida; however, no specific organization or group controls the majority of wholesale marijuana distribution in the state. Jamaican, Mexican, African American, Caucasian, Cuban and other Caribbean criminal groups; local independent African American and Caucasian dealers; and gangs such as Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Vice Lords, and Sureņos 13 are the most prominent midlevel and retail distributors of marijuana in the state. At the retail level marijuana usually is packaged in plastic bags selling for $5 and $10--known, respectively, as nickel and dime bags--and distributed at low-income housing areas, open-air drug markets, and in economically depressed rural areas in Florida. Marijuana also is sold to established contacts at bars and nightclubs, from some businesses and private homes, and on college, high school, and middle school campuses.

   

Abuse

Treatment data indicate that marijuana is commonly abused in Florida. The number of marijuana-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities was second only to the number for cocaine abuse each year from 1997 through 2000 and was higher than the number for every other illicit drug in 2001. According to TEDS data, the number of marijuana-related treatment admissions increased from 12,146 in 1997 to 14,356 in 2001, peaking at 17,057 in 1999. (See Table 3 in Overview section.) The number of marijuana-related treatment admissions per 100,000 population (133) in Florida exceeded the number per 100,000 population nationwide (103) in 1999, the most recent year for which these data are available.

Miami has a significant number of ED mentions associated with marijuana abuse. According to DAWN data, the number of marijuana-related ED mentions in Miami increased steadily from 1,024 in 1997 to 1,932 in 2001. The rate of marijuana-related ED mentions per 100,000 population in Miami also increased, from 55 in 1997 to 94 in 2001.

Survey data indicate that the rate of marijuana abuse in Florida is comparable to the national percentage. According to the 1999 and the 2000 NHSDA, 4.7 percent of Florida residents surveyed reported having abused marijuana in the month prior to the survey, compared to 4.8 percent nationwide. Further, Florida residents in the 18 to 25 age group reported the highest percentage (13.1%) of past month marijuana abuse.

The percentage of high school students in Florida reporting having abused marijuana at least once in their lifetime is statistically comparable to the national percentage. According to the 2001 YRBS, 40.2 percent of Florida high school students surveyed reported having abused marijuana at least once in their lifetime, compared to 42.4 percent nationwide. Further, 23.1 percent of those students reported having abused marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey, compared to 23.9 percent nationally.

Marijuana was detected often among adult male arrestees in Fort Lauderdale and Miami in 2000. According to ADAM data, 43.3 percent of male arrestees in Fort Lauderdale and 38.5 percent of male arrestees in Miami tested positive for marijuana abuse in 2000. (See Table 2 in Overview section.)

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Availability

Marijuana is the most widely available drug in Florida. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials throughout the state report that marijuana is readily available in every county. Marijuana was seized more frequently than any other illicit drug in Florida each year from 1997 through 2001. According to FDSS data, the amount of marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officials in Florida fluctuated but decreased overall from 33,439 kilograms in 1997 to 30,184 kilograms in 2001. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)

Both hydroponic marijuana and commercial-grade marijuana are readily available in Florida. Hydroponically produced marijuana is considerably more expensive than commercial-grade marijuana. According to the DEA Miami Division, pound quantities of commercial-grade marijuana sold for $450 to $1,500 statewide in the second quarter of FY2002, while pound quantities of hydroponically produced marijuana sold for $2,500 to $5,000. Ounce quantities of commercial-grade marijuana sold for $50 to $150 throughout Florida in that quarter, and hydroponically produced marijuana sold for $300 to $500 per ounce.

The percentage of marijuana-related federal sentences in Florida was significantly lower than the national percentage each year from FY1997 through FY2001. According to USSC data, 14.0 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Florida in FY2001 were marijuana-related, compared with 32.8 percent nationwide.

   

Violence

The level of violence directly attributed to marijuana distribution in Florida is low. However, gangs that engage in polydrug distribution such as Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Vice Lords, and Sureņos 13 often commit violent crimes to protect their product and turf. Other criminal groups likewise resort to violence to protect their marijuana distribution activities. In April 2002 the North Miami Beach Police Department investigated two homicides that were directly attributed to marijuana distribution. Both of these incidents involved members of Haitian and African American criminal groups battling over turf in the Miami area.

There is very little violence associated with marijuana abuse in Florida. The effects of the drug often depend upon the abuser's expectations. While low doses of marijuana tend to induce relaxation, high doses may cause image distortion, a loss of personal identity, fantasies, and hallucinations. In Florida marijuana occasionally is laced with other drugs, including PCP (phencyclidine) and crack cocaine. These adulterants substantially alter the effects and toxicity of the product, making it more likely that an abuser will become violent.

Cannabis cultivation sometimes is associated with violent crime in Florida. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in the state report that cannabis growers sometimes use trip wires, beds of nails, solar-powered electric fences, and explosives to secure outdoor cultivation sites and to deter intruders. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Domestic Marijuana Eradication Program data, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials seized 42 firearms from the 551 grow sites detected in Florida in 2001.

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Production

Significant quantities of marijuana are produced in Florida; however, most of the marijuana available in the state is produced in Jamaica or Mexico. Additional quantities of marijuana are produced in other U.S. states--particularly California and southwestern states--as well as in Canada and Colombia. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Domestic Marijuana Eradication Program data, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials eradicated 28,206 cannabis plants in Florida in 2001. These plants were cultivated both indoors and outdoors in 58 of the state's 67 counties. However, 63 percent of all the cannabis plants eradicated in Florida that year had been cultivated in 12 counties--Alachua, Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Holmes, Jackson, Lee, Miami-Dade, Okeechobee, Orange, and Santa Rosa.

Cannabis plants are cultivated both indoors and outdoors in the state. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials indicate that aggressive aerial detection missions and occasional drought conditions have, at least in part, contributed to a shift from large outdoor grows to indoor grows and smaller, more widely dispersed outdoor grows. According to DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program data, the number of outdoor-cultivated cannabis plants eradicated in the state decreased from 23,796 in 2000 to 13,055 in 2001, while the number of indoor-cultivated plants eradicated remained relatively stable with 15,343 in 2000 and 15,151 in 2001. According to DEA statistics, Florida ranked third after California (113,009 plants) and Washington (25,799 plants) for the number of cannabis plants seized from indoor grows in the United States in 2001.


Criminal Group Used Multiple Indoor Sites to Cultivate Cannabis

In October 2002, 18 members of a Caucasian criminal group were convicted on drug-related charges for cultivating cannabis in South Florida. Group members purchased a total of 13 houses in Palm Beach County and other southern counties and established grow sites at each of the locations. Each house was situated on a large lot--over an acre of land--and was outfitted with special lighting to enhance cultivation. Group members bypassed electric meters to avoid excessive electric bills and laundered drug proceeds through the payroll department of an air-conditioning sales company. According to law enforcement officials, each site contained approximately 240 cannabis plants.

Source: U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Florida.

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Transportation

Marijuana from foreign and domestic sources is transported into Florida by various groups and methods. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials report that marijuana frequently is smuggled into Florida from Jamaica aboard maritime vessels, on private or commercial aircraft, or via package delivery services. Marijuana also is transported from Canada, Mexico, and southwestern states in private vehicles, commercial trucks, via package delivery services, and by couriers or in cargo shipments on commercial airlines. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups or groups working on their behalf use the same methods to transport marijuana south from New York to Florida and use couriers or cargo shipments on commercial airlines to smuggle marijuana from South America.


Maritime Marijuana Seizures

On October 20, 2002, a boarding crew from a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) cutter seized 1,075 pounds of marijuana from a 28-foot private fishing boat during a standard safety inspection. The seizure occurred in the Florida Straits approximately 30 miles east of Miami. The marijuana was secreted in the cabin and in storage compartments throughout the vessel. Two male U.S. citizens were arrested. The origin of the marijuana is unknown.

Source: USCG.


On February 28, 2002, USCS agents seized 2 tons of marijuana aboard a containerized vessel at the Port of Miami. The marijuana was concealed in a containerized shipment of yams. The vessel arrived from Kingston, Jamaica.

Source: USCS.

A significant portion of the marijuana transported into Florida, particularly the southern part of the state, is smuggled on maritime vessels. Some vessels arrive in Florida directly from source or transit countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean. Others rendezvous with maritime vessels acting as motherships or retrieve marijuana from airdrops. Large shipments of marijuana typically are smuggled into the state aboard containerized cargo vessels, coastal freighters, and go-fast boats. Smaller quantities typically are smuggled by couriers aboard cruise ships and via small watercraft. Marijuana smuggled aboard containerized cargo vessels typically is intermingled with goods inside a container or within the walls of the container. Marijuana smuggled aboard coastal freighters usually is intermingled with bulk cargo; secreted inside fuel tanks, water tanks, or other voids in the vessels' structures; or placed in hidden compartments designed to conceal drugs. Marijuana smuggled aboard go-fast boats usually is covered with a tarp, whereas marijuana smuggled aboard other small watercraft typically is concealed within storage compartments. Drug couriers aboard cruise ships typically conceal marijuana on their person or in their luggage. Couriers aboard cruise ships also stash marijuana on the ship for retrieval after the vessel has docked or pass marijuana to corrupt crew members. USCS officials in Florida seized over 29,606 kilograms of marijuana aboard maritime vessels in 2001. This amount was greater than the amount of any other illicit drug seized aboard maritime vessels that year.


Airdrops and Mothership Operations

Airdrops and mothership operations generally occur in Caribbean waters, the Florida Straits, or the Bahamas. Drug transporters most commonly use go-fast boats and fishing vessels to retrieve airdropped packages of marijuana or to conduct a rendezvous with a mothership; however, other types of vessels also are used. Packages of airdropped marijuana usually are attached to fishing buoys by a cable.

Source: Blue Lightning Strike Force.

Noncommercial vessels are used to smuggle marijuana into Florida at an increasing rate. According to the USCG, an increasing number of DTOs and criminal groups use noncommercial vessels to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into South Florida from points throughout the Caribbean, especially via the Bahamas. EPIC reported that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials seized 6,944 kilograms of marijuana entering Florida via noncommercial vessels in 2001, compared with 2,027 kilograms in 2000.

Significant quantities of marijuana also are transported into Florida, particularly the northern and central parts of the state, in private and commercial vehicles. Marijuana transported in commercial vehicles often is intermingled with legitimate cargo, while marijuana transported in private vehicles often is concealed in hidden compartments. In December 2001 DEA agents in Orlando seized 1,236 pounds of marijuana from a criminal group that had transported 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of marijuana in private and commercial vehicles from Texas into Florida over a 2-year period. According to DEA, hundred- to multihundred-pound shipments of marijuana are transported on I-10 in private and commercial vehicles into and through the Florida Panhandle area daily. USCS officials in Florida seized 4,691 kilograms of marijuana from commercial and private vehicles in 2001. This amount was greater than the amount of any other illicit drug seized from commercial and private vehicles that year. Law enforcement officials in Florida seized 320.1 kilograms of marijuana as part of Operation Pipeline in 2001.

Commercial and private aircraft and package delivery services also are used to transport marijuana into Florida. Marijuana shipments smuggled into Florida on aircraft are concealed using various means. Couriers often conceal marijuana taped to their body or hide the drug in clothing. In February 2001 DEA officials in Orlando arrested two individuals and seized 23 pounds of marijuana that were concealed on their persons under exercise belts made of spandex. Marijuana also is hidden in luggage with clothing or inside false compartments. Marijuana in air cargo shipments typically is packaged in a container or box, sometimes intermingled with legitimate products. According to the North Florida HIDTA, hydroponically produced marijuana smuggled from British Columbia, Canada, referred to as BC Bud, increasingly is transported via private aircraft directly into Florida. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in Florida seized 675.6 kilograms of marijuana transported on private and commercial aircraft as part of Operation Jetway in FY2001.

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Distribution

Jacksonville and Miami are regional distribution centers for wholesale quantities of marijuana. State and local law enforcement officials in at least 10 states responding to the NDTS 2002 reported that Florida is a supply area for marijuana available in their jurisdictions. Some states reporting Florida as a supply area for marijuana are Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Jamaican and Mexican criminal groups are the most prominent wholesale distributors of marijuana in Florida; however, no specific organization or group controls the majority of wholesale marijuana distribution in the state. The North Florida HIDTA reports that Mexican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of marijuana in northern Florida, while the Central Florida HIDTA reports that Jamaican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of marijuana in central and southern Florida. Colombian, Bahamian, and other Caribbean criminal groups and African American and Hispanic gangs also sell wholesale quantities of marijuana in the state. Many of these criminal groups and gangs sell multikilogram to multihundred-kilogram quantities of marijuana to midlevel distributors who, in turn, distribute kilogram to pound quantities of marijuana to retail distributors.

Various criminal groups, local independent dealers, and gangs distribute midlevel and retail quantities of marijuana in Florida. Jamaican, Mexican, African American, Caucasian, Cuban and other Caribbean criminal groups; local independent African American and Caucasian dealers; and gangs such as Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Vice Lords, and Sureņos 13 are the most prominent midlevel and retail distributors of marijuana in the state. At the retail level marijuana usually is packaged in plastic bags selling for $5 and $10 each--known, respectively, as nickel and dime bags. Retail quantities of marijuana are distributed at low-income housing areas, open-air drug markets, and in economically depressed rural areas in Florida. However, marijuana also is sold to established contacts at bars and nightclubs, from some businesses and private homes, and on college, high school, and middle school campuses. Retail distribution of marijuana in Florida is increasingly competitive. Many retail distributors add adulterants such as powdered cocaine, ketamine, methamphetamine, embalming fluid laced with PCP, and other substances to low potency marijuana in an attempt to create a unique product that will attract repeat customers.

 


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