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National Drug Intelligence Center
Arizona Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana is a significant drug threat to Arizona. Marijuana produced in Mexico is the predominant type available throughout Arizona. Locally produced marijuana and Canada-produced marijuana, commonly called BC Bud, are also available, but to a lesser extent. Cannabis cultivation occurs within the state and generally is controlled by Caucasian and Hispanic criminal groups and independent producers. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of marijuana from Mexico into Arizona. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control wholesale distribution of marijuana produced in Mexico; Hispanic street gangs and Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic local independent dealers control retail distribution of the drug. Caucasian and Hispanic criminal groups and independent dealers are the primary wholesale and retail distributors of locally produced marijuana in Arizona. Caucasian independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of the limited quantities of BC Bud available in the state.
Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in Arizona. Of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002, 29 reported high levels of marijuana abuse in their jurisdictions, 6 reported medium levels of abuse, and 1 reported a low level of abuse. Twelve respondents did not rate the level of marijuana abuse in their jurisdictions.
Marijuana abuse in Arizona is a concern to treatment providers. Marijuana-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Arizona increased each year from 1998 through 2001, then decreased in 2002. According to TEDS, the number of treatment admissions for marijuana abuse increased from 634 in 1998 to 757 in 1999, to 790 in 2000, to 1,003 in 2001, then decreased to 610 in 2002. The number of marijuana-related admissions was greater than for any other drug in 1999 and 2000.
The number of marijuana-related ED mentions in the Phoenix metropolitan area increased from 741 in 1997 to 1,366 in 2002, according to DAWN data. The rate of marijuana-related ED mentions per 100,000 population in the Phoenix metropolitan area (46) was slightly lower than the rate nationwide (47) in 2002.
Marijuana is the most frequently detected illicit drug in employment-related drug screenings. According to the Arizona HIDTA, a private testing laboratory conducted 108,562 screenings in 1999, 155,559 in 2000, and 171,845 in 2001. Marijuana was present in 3,227 of the 8,338 positive results in 1999 (38.7%), 4,707 of the 12,258 positive results in 2000 (38.4%), and 4,518 of positive results in 2001 (37%).
Marijuana is the most frequently detected illicit drug among adult male arrestees in Phoenix and Tucson. According to the ADAM program, in 2001, 39.7 percent of adult male arrestees who were screened for drug abuse in Phoenix tested positive for marijuana use. In Tucson 43.4 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive.
Marijuana is the illicit drug most widely abused by adolescents in Arizona. According to the ACJC 2002 State of Arizona Youth Survey, 38.8 percent of junior and senior high school students surveyed reported that they had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime, a higher percentage than for any other drug. Of the students surveyed, 50.8 percent of Arizona twelfth grade students, 41.6 percent of tenth grade students, and 26.6 percent of eighth grade students reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
Marijuana is the most readily available illicit drug in Arizona. Of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002, 38 reported that marijuana was readily available in their jurisdictions. Ten respondents did not rate the level of marijuana availability in their jurisdictions. Marijuana produced in Mexico is the predominant type available in the state. Marijuana produced in Arizona is also available, but to a lesser extent. Limited quantities of high-grade BC Bud from Canada are available in some areas of state.
Marijuana seizure amounts are high in Arizona. According to FDSS data, law enforcement officials in Arizona seized 148,344 kilograms of marijuana in 1998, 173,832 kilograms in 1999, 199,414 kilograms in 2000, 219,155 kilograms in 2001, and 248,372 kilograms in 2002. FDSS data indicate that Arizona ranked second in the nation after Texas for the amount of marijuana seized in 2001 and 2002. Arizona law enforcement officials seize more marijuana than any other drug; it accounted for 99 percent of total drug seizures in 2002. Moreover, the amount of marijuana seized within 150 miles of the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border has increased each year from 1999 through 2002. According to EPIC, such seizures increased 45 percent from 169,586 kilograms in 1999 to 246,161 kilograms in 2002. (See Table 5.)
Officials with USCS frequently seize large shipments of marijuana being smuggled into Arizona. In February 2003 USCS agents seized 3,528 pounds of marijuana concealed in a shipment of spaghetti squash in a tractor-trailer entering Arizona at the Nogales POE. Other large shipments of marijuana seized at the Nogales POE include 2,527 pounds concealed in a tractor-trailer seized by USCS officials in June 2002, 5,272 pounds in a tractor-trailer seized in January 2001, and 8,472 pounds seized from a tractor-trailer in November 2000.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were marijuana-related in Arizona was more than double the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 76.3 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Arizona in FY2001 were marijuana-related, compared with 32.8 percent nationally. Moreover, marijuana accounted for a higher percentage of drug-related federal sentences in Arizona than in any other state in FY2001.
Marijuana prices have remained relatively stable in Arizona since FY2000; however, prices do vary throughout the state. Prices are lower in the southern areas of the state, including Tucson and Yuma, than in northern cities such as Flagstaff. According to DEA, in Yuma ounce quantities of marijuana sold for $40 to $100 and pound quantities sold for $300 to $400 during the fourth quarter of FY2002. Ounce quantities of marijuana sold for $100 to $175 in Flagstaff while pound quantities sold for $750 to $1,000 during the same period. (See Table 6.)
Marijuana-related violence in Arizona occurs periodically, usually in connection with production, transportation, or distribution of the drug. Law enforcement officials report that cannabis cultivators sometimes use animal traps, armed guards, explosive devices, guard dogs, and trip wires to secure their production sites. Mexican DTOs frequently employ violent measures to protect their drug shipments and prevent law enforcement interference, including placing armed lookouts in key smuggling areas along the border. Marijuana traffickers also frequently attempt to evade interdiction by law enforcement officers, running into them with their vehicles or shooting at them. Street gangs that distribute marijuana often commit drive-by shootings, home invasions, assaults, and extortion in connection with marijuana distribution operations.
Most of the marijuana available in Arizona is produced in Mexico; however, cannabis is cultivated in the state to a limited extent. Within the state cannabis cultivation generally is controlled by Caucasian and Hispanic criminal groups and independent producers. Cannabis is cultivated in Arizona at both indoor and outdoor grow sites.
Most locally produced marijuana is produced from cannabis cultivated at outdoor grow sites. Outdoor grow sites in Arizona frequently are located in forests or along riverbeds. According to the DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP), there were 5,019 plants seized from outdoor grow sites in 1998 and 3,345 plants seized in 2002. (The number of plants seized from outdoor cultivation operations in 1998 was atypically high because a large grow site was targeted multiple times, yielding several large seizures.)
Indoor cannabis grows are not a significant source of marijuana in Arizona. Indoor grows are typically small (5 to 15 plants). The marijuana produced is mostly for personal consumption. According to the DCE/SP, the number of plants seized by law enforcement officials in Arizona from indoor grow operations increased from 251 in 1998 to 492 in 2002.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of marijuana from Mexico into Arizona. They typically smuggle marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border between and through the Arizona POEs and transport the drug to drug markets within the state and throughout the country.
Marijuana transporters primarily smuggle the drug from Mexico into Arizona using backpackers and couriers on horseback that travel between the POEs. Backpackers typically travel in groups of 6 to 10 and carry 30 to 50 pounds of marijuana each. Officials with the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP)--now part of CBP--report that backpackers are increasingly traveling in larger groups; in February 2003 officials encountered a group of 28 backpackers carrying marijuana. Couriers on horseback generally travel in groups of 5 to 10 and transport marijuana over rough, mountainous trails. Once the marijuana is smuggled into the state, these individuals stash the drug at prearranged locations near roads and highways in the desert to be retrieved by another member of the smuggling organization. Most of the marijuana seizures along the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border are of stashed shipments.
Seizure data indicate that marijuana smuggling between Arizona POEs is common. Arizona law enforcement officials seized a larger percentage of marijuana from smugglers operating between POEs in Arizona than in any other state along the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2002 marijuana seized between POEs accounted for 50 percent (122,989 kg) of total marijuana seizures (246,161) in the Arizona border area. Along the U.S.-Mexico border (excluding Arizona), marijuana seized between POEs accounted for only 17 percent of seizures. (See Table 7.)
Marijuana transporters also smuggle marijuana from Mexico into Arizona in commercial and private vehicles. DTOs typically conceal marijuana in specially designed hidden compartments within these vehicles. Typical concealment areas include bumpers, tires, gas tanks, quarter panels, seats, spare tires, and engine compartments. Marijuana transporters also conceal the marijuana in duffel bags or luggage within the trunk or on the floor or seat of the vehicle. They also commingle marijuana with legitimate cargo such as fruits and vegetables.
Marijuana transporters also use underground tunnels that extend from Mexico into the United States to smuggle the drug. Law enforcement officials in border towns frequently discover tunnels--either new tunnels or previously sealed tunnels that have been reopened--that are used to smuggle marijuana. In January 2003 three tunnels that originated at the same drainage basin in Mexico were discovered in Nogales. In addition, marijuana transporters use couriers aboard commercial aircraft and buses, freight trains and, to an increasing extent, package delivery services to smuggle the drug into the state.
Arizona is a primary transshipment area for marijuana destined for markets throughout the country. Once smuggled into the state, marijuana shipments are transported to stash houses, primarily in Phoenix and Tucson, for consolidation and transport throughout the state and the country. Stash houses typically contain between 500 and 1,000 pounds of marijuana; however, larger quantities also are stored at these sites. For instance, in December 2002 USCS and Arizona Department of Public Safety officials seized more than 4,200 pounds of marijuana from a stash house in Southeast Phoenix. Traffickers transport marijuana from these stash locations to various cities throughout the country, such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Additionally, traffickers, particularly Jamaican criminal groups and various independent dealers from drug markets located throughout the country, frequently travel to Central Arizona to purchase marijuana and then transport it back to their areas for distribution. According to Operation Pipeline, Arizona was identified as the source of supply in 15 percent of marijuana highway interdictions conducted in 2001. Arizona ranked third, with 97 interdictions, after Texas (276) and California (113).
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate wholesale distribution of Mexico-produced marijuana throughout Arizona. Jamaican criminal groups and Caucasian local independent dealers also distribute Mexico-produced marijuana at the wholesale level. Caucasian and Hispanic criminal groups and independent dealers are the primary wholesale and retail distributors of locally produced marijuana within the state. Caucasian independent dealers distribute limited quantities of BC Bud in the state.
Hispanic street gangs and Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic local independent dealers distribute marijuana at the retail level in Arizona. Jamaican, Mexican, and Caucasian criminal groups and OMGs also distribute marijuana at the retail level, but to a lesser extent. In Flagstaff Caucasian independent dealers dominate the retail distribution of marijuana; Mexican criminal groups and local street gangs also distribute the drug at the retail level. In Phoenix Hispanic street gangs such as Wetback Power Hispanic and Wetback Power 21st Street are the primary retail-level distributors of marijuana; however, Caucasian and Jamaican criminal groups, local independent dealers, and OMGs also serve as retail distributors. Hispanic street gangs such as South Park Family Gangsters and South Side Posse Bloods and local independent dealers control retail distribution in Tucson. Local independent dealers are the primary retail distributors in Yuma, according to the Yuma Police Department; however, the Hells Angels OMG also distributes retail quantities, but to a lesser extent.
Marijuana packaging varies depending on the amount distributed. Wholesale quantities are often compressed into brick-shaped packages using hydraulic presses and then wrapped in packaging tape, plastic wrap, or another material for wholesale distribution. Retail quantities of marijuana commonly are packaged in small plastic bags.
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