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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
California Northern and Eastern Districts Drug Threat Assessment 
January 2001


Cannabis cultivation and marijuana use are widespread in Northern California. Because of the costs associated with surveillance and the eradication of cannabis, some Northern California authorities rank marijuana a more costly threat than cocaine. Medical marijuana initiatives complicate local law enforcement efforts throughout California. Authorities in some areas consider marijuana a more serious threat than cocaine because of manpower, violence, and financial issues.


According to CADDS, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana/hashish abuse rose from 7,802 in FY1998 to 8,904 in FY1999. In both years about 70 percent of those admitted were male.

The number of DAWN ED marijuana/hashish mentions in San Francisco rose from 305 in 1991 to 507 in 1995 before dropping to 394 in 1998.

Sacramento ADAM subjects tested higher than San Jose subjects for marijuana use. The percentages in Sacramento were 44 and 33 for males and females respectively, while in San Jose the percentages were 34 and 26.

In contrast, San Francisco ED mentions declined by more than 20 percent from 1995 to 1997, and remained at the new low level in 1998. According to Newmeyer, some 2,135 people were in treatment for primary marijuana problems in the Bay Area in FY1999.

Arrests for marijuana-related offenses in San Francisco County remained stable, between 2,000 and 2,400 per year from 1993 to 1998.

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Marijuana, particularly domestically produced marijuana, remains readily available in Northern California. Marijuana seizures in California were just below 200,000 kilograms in 1999, a high for the 5-year period, according to EPIC data (see Chart 6). Under the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, authorities in California eradicated 405,440 marijuana plants and seized 2,184 plots and grows in 1998.

Chart 6. Marijuana Seizures, California, 1995-1999

Chart showing marijuana seizure amounts in kilograms in Northern California for years 1995 through 1999.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, El Paso Intelligence Center, Operation Pipeline, Seizure Statistics, 1995-1999, updated 23 February 2000.

In September 1999, authorities in San Benito County made the state's second-largest marijuana seizure ever. Some 50,000 mature plants growing in a remote area about 4,300 feet above sea level were destroyed by officers from the San Benito County Undersheriff's Department and the state's Department of Justice Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. The Under-sheriff said, "In my 30 years here, it's the most dope I've ever seen."

San Francisco Chronicle, 15 September 1999.

Domestically produced marijuana is preferred because of the higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. California-produced marijuana usually contains 10 to 20 percent THC, versus 2 to 5 percent for the Mexican variety. Pound prices for high-grade marijuana produced in Santa Clara County can reach $4,000$6,000. See Table 4 for price and purity information reported by other offices.

Table 4. Domestic and Mexican Marijuana Prices

DEA Offices Domestic Marijuana Price Range (dollars/pound) Mexican Marijuana Price Range (dollars/pound)
San Francisco 2,500  600 to 1,400
Sacramento 500 to 5,000  800     1,000
Bakersfield 1,500     3,500      100        350
Fresno 1,500     4,500      100        350
San Jose 4,000     6,000      400        900

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, San Francisco Field Division, Trends in the Traffic for the 1st Quarter FY2000: October-December 1999.

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Growers reportedly employ armed guards to protect both indoor and outdoor grows. Growers may warn off intruders with flares and use pits filled with punji stakes, fishhooks dangling at eye level, guard dogs, or trip wires linked to shotguns, grenades, or other explosives. In Fresno County, authorities recently found a grenade with a trip wire strapped to a propane tank. Law enforcement has confiscated semiautomatic weapons, night-vision binoculars, and bulletproof vests from growers.

The East Bay Regional Park Police warned people to stay away from any marijuana plants they see because "some of these folks will build booby traps, not so much to trap hikers and police but to prevent theft."

San Francisco Chronicle, 29 August 1998; Oakland Tribune, 15 September 1999.

Law enforcement agencies indicate that in the Emerald Triangle composed of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties near the Oregon border, many cannabis growers protect their plants by violent means. These growers commit murders to expand their influence and use assault weapons while patrolling their plots. Many of these growers are young Caucasians who flaunt their wealth by purchasing expensive vehicles.

Marijuana grows present unique enforcement problems by virtue of their location and the notoriously hostile reception given to law enforcement in rural communities. Growers use elaborate mechanisms to detect law enforcement infiltration and to protect their crops from poachers. Further, any significant law enforcement presence is immediately noted and communicated to those who might be interested. As a result, law enforcement officers engaged in such investigations are often at risk.

In August 2000, a Madera County sheriff's deputy shot and killed a man at a marijuana farm. Before he was shot, the 19-year-old Mexican had pointed a semiautomatic pistol at the deputy. In the raid, deputies found 7,000 marijuana plants that had grown 5 to 8 feet tall. In October 2000, a 41-year-old man and his 8-year-old son were shot by two men guarding a marijuana grow on the victim's property. The older victim's brother-in-law was arrested about 3 weeks later regarding both the shooting and the marijuana grow.

According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the Sacramaniacs gang (a white supremacist gang) will commit any crime for profit, including distributing marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine. The size of a typical white supremacist gang remains between 5 and 20 members who range in age from their early teens to mid-twenties.

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The cultivation of cannabis is widespread in Northern California, especially in the Emerald Triangle. The large-scale outdoor cultivation sites that dot the Emerald Triangle often use sophisticated irrigation systems to produce thousands of pounds of high-grade, high-demand marijuana annually. Cannabis cultivators in this area are predominantly young Caucasian males.

Growers increasingly use state and federal lands to cultivate cannabis. In the Bay Area, land owned by the San Francisco Water Department and the East Bay Regional Park has been used for grows of up to 20,000 plants. When growers use locations like the national forests, the forests themselves suffer from the adverse effects of cannabis cultivation. Cannabis cultivators sometimes set the woods on fire to retaliate against raids by authorities. One blaze burned 12,000 acres. Growers clear-cut cultivation areas with chain saws and spread tons of fertilizer and pesticides. They set out poison for rodents, which also kills wildlife. California authorities found a marijuana grower's journal documenting the slaughter of hundreds of deer.

In recent months, authorities in Northern California seized large numbers of marijuana plants in large-scale outdoor grows. Officers in Calaveras, Fresno, Madera, and Tulare Counties seized between 4,000 and 14,000 plants in operations in August and September 2000. Madera County officials expect a bumper crop of marijuana in 2000. Eradicating plants at such sites is expensive and time-consuming.

Although most marijuana grown around San Jose is grown indoors, there has been a huge increase in outdoor grows operated by Mexican nationals in the last 2-3 years. Located in remote areas on federal and ranch lands, these grows have exceeded 50,000 plants. Illegal migrants live at the grow sites tending the plants. Because the sites are so remote, cultivators can spot law enforcement officers coming and have sufficient time to evade capture.

Most marijuana in Fresno is cultivated locally by Mexican nationals using remote areas in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Difficulties in prosecuting marijuana cultivators and users cause law enforcement to concentrate on violations related to other drugs.

Asian growers in Northern California have sometimes cultivated cannabis intermixed with other crops, using legitimate agriculture as a cover for their grows. Discovering the grows is difficult, and uprooting the plants is a time-consuming and labor-intensive task.



Mexican groups use the same methods to transport marijuana as methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. These groups distribute marijuana within California and throughout the United States.

Authorities seized 226 kilograms of marijuana on all highways in Northern California in 1999. Almost all marijuana seized originated in and was destined for locations in California. Interstate 5, with about 78 percent of the seizures, is the main highway used for transporting marijuana. U.S. Highways 101, 99, and 395 had only a few seizures each. Seizure amounts ranged from 4 to 45 kilograms.



Street gangs are responsible for a significant amount of retail marijuana distribution. Law enforcement officials report that many Hispanic and African-American street gangs distribute marijuana in both metropolitan and rural areas of California. The San Francisco Police Department indicates that Hispanic gang members are involved in marijuana distribution.

The California Department of Justice estimates there could be as many as 5,000 Caucasian street gang members in California, many of whom distribute marijuana. Most of the gangs lack structure and appear to be loose-knit without much leadership. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office reports that independent individuals without organized gang involvement are the primary distributors of locally grown marijuana.

Asian street gangs are involved in marijuana distribution in San Mateo and Marin Counties. Asian distributors sell marijuana packaged in plastic food bags. Sometimes they sell larger quantities packaged in shoeboxes. They typically sell to people they know or to those known to their personal contacts.


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