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


This report covers the Northern and Eastern U.S. Attorney Districts of California, hereafter referred to as Northern California.

Northern California is part of the most populous and diverse state in the nation. In July 1999, California had over 34 million people, about 14 million residing in the Northern and Eastern Districts. California's principal industries are agriculture, entertainment, manufacturing, services, and trade. In 1999, the per capita state income of $29,910 was above the $28,542 national average. In May 2000, the seasonally adjusted state unemployment rate was 5.0 percent, which is above the national average of 4.1 percent.

California's extensive coastline and border with Mexico, its busy ports and vast system of highways facilitate drug importation and distribution. The main interstates in Northern California are I-5 and I-80, and Highways 1 and 101 are extensively traveled coastal roadways. The Port of Oakland is the fourth busiest container port in the nation, and the San Francisco airport is the twelfth busiest in the world.

Fast Facts

(Northern and Eastern U.S. Attorney Districts)
(statewide data marked *)
 (Jan 2000)
13.9 million
*Median household income (1998) $40,600
 rate (2000)
Land area 109,194.7 sq mi 
(282,814 sq km)
Shoreline 453 miles (729 km)
*Capital Sacramento
Bakersfield, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Oakland, San Jose
Number of
Agriculture, entertainment, manufacturing, services, trade

Map of the State of California showing the Northern and Eastern U.S. Attorney Districts.

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This region is a source, transit, and arrival zone for various illicit drugs. Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) produce methamphetamine and cultivate cannabis in large quantities in Northern California. The interstate highway system facilitates the north-south and east-west transportation of these drugs throughout Northern California and the United States.

The Mexican DTOs that produce and distribute methamphetamine also transport and distribute other drugs in the area. Mexican DTOs dominate the distribution of large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana in Northern California. African-American, Asian, and Middle Eastern groups have developed a strong influence within the region. A wide variety of gang members and their associates are the primary distributors of illegal narcotics at the street level. Gangs use firearms and violence to protect their territories and supplies. Gang violence is increasing and is closely associated with the methamphetamine trade.

Hispanic street gangs and prison gangs are growing in number. Outlaw motorcycle gangs, primarily the Hells Angels, still have an active role in the methamphetamine trade. African-American gangs, located in urban areas, are often associated with drug sales in public housing. Recently, East Indian criminals have become more involved in retail drug sales and other drug-related activity in the San Francisco area. With some exceptions, individual gang members conduct retail narcotics distribution on their own account rather than as part of a structured gang business.

The methods by which narcotics are distributed within the Northern California region are evolving. Intelligence indicates that most groups are now storing narcotics in smaller quantities at multiple locations. This technique minimizes seizures by law enforcement and reduces the risk of large-scale losses to criminal groups.

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Methamphetamine. The most serious drug threat facing Northern California law enforcement is methamphetamine. Although more people are admitted to treatment facilities for heroin abuse, several factors make methamphetamine a more serious concern. The producers and the users of the drug are often violent. By-products of methamphetamine production damage the environment.

Heroin. Black tar heroin from Mexico is plentiful in Northern California, and prices remain low. Although the number of heroin treatment admissions is up, that number relative to total admissions for all illicit drugs is down within the region. With few exceptions, tightly knit Mexican groups control the transportation and distribution of heroin.

Cocaine. Cocaine use, of both powdered and crack forms, is steady in Northern California. Cocaine treatment admissions are up, and violence associated with crack distribution is a serious concern for law enforcement officials. The California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE) reports that in San Joaquin County, crack is as serious a problem as methamphetamine.

Marijuana. 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 as a more costly threat than cocaine.

Other Dangerous Drugs. The San Francisco Bay Area has a thriving alternative culture, which often includes the use of other dangerous drugs. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) has been popular for many years. The increased use of "designer drugs" such as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), commonly known as ecstasy, and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is also of concern to area authorities.

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