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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
Massachusetts Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001 


The marijuana threat in Massachusetts is generally perceived as lower than that posed by heroin or cocaine because marijuana users do not often seek treatment for marijuana substance abuse or commit violent crimes. However, marijuana is readily available in the state, and there could be more marijuana users than all other drug users combined. Moreover, marijuana trafficking and sales have much stronger associations with violent crime than does marijuana use. Overall, the costs of marijuana abuse to the user and to society are less than that of heroin or cocaine abuse, and, therefore, most treatment providers and law enforcement authorities believe it to be a lower threat. In some rural areas of the state (e.g., Plymouth, Franklin, and Hampshire Counties), law enforcement ranks the marijuana threat second behind cocaine. Most marijuana distributed in Massachusetts is of Mexican origin, but some cannabis is cultivated in Massachusetts.


According to DAWN data, ED marijuana/hashish mentions in Boston increased 39 percent in 1998 following a 2-year decline. Marijuana/hashish mentions were lower than cocaine and heroin/morphine mentions throughout the 1990s until 1998, when they outnumbered heroin/morphine mentions for the first time. Annual marijuana/hashish mentions viewed as a percentage of total drug mentions rose every year from 1990 to 1996, dipped slightly in 1997, then rose sharply in 1998. Every year since 1991, Boston ranked between fourth and seventh in marijuana/hashish mentions per 100,000 population among the 21 cities nationwide from which DAWN reports data, except for 1997, when it ranked eleventh.

Only 4 percent of admissions to drug treatment centers in Boston in the first three quarters of FY1999 were primary marijuana users, consistent with past years. Admissions for marijuana for the first three quarters of FY1999 were lower than those for powdered and crack cocaine (31%), heroin (34%), and alcohol (59%). However, 14 percent of admissions to drug treatment centers in Boston in the first three quarters of FY1999, and 18 percent of admissions to centers in the remainder of Massachusetts, reported using marijuana in the month prior to admission, percentages consistent with the previous year. In statewide substance abuse help-line calls in which drugs were specified, marijuana was mentioned in 5 percent of calls between May and September of 1999, level with the previous 5-month period.

According to the Massachusetts DPH, substance abuse treatment centers in Boston in the first three quarters of FY1999 provided the following data for admissions reporting marijuana as their primary drug:

  • 76 percent were male, a percentage marginally lower than the previous year but the same as in FY1997.
  • 42 percent were African American, a percentage marginally lower than the previous year; 28 percent were Caucasian, down for the second straight year and 9 percent lower than in FY1997; and 25 percent were Hispanic, up for the third straight year and 7 percent higher than in FY1996.
  • The average age of admissions was 25. The percentage of admissions aged 19 to 29 rose for the second straight year from 43 percent in FY1997 to 47 percent in the first three quarters of FY1999. The percentage of admissions under 19 years of age dropped to 28 percent, the lowest level in 3 years, and 25 percent of admissions were aged 30 or older, a percentage consistent with the previous 2 years.
  • 86 percent earned less than $10,000 per year, a percentage consistent with the previous 4 years.
  • The percentage of admissions with some involvement with the criminal justice system rose for the second straight year from 47 percent in FY1997 to 62 percent in the first three quarters of FY1999.
  • The percentage of admissions reporting a mental health problem dropped for the second straight year from 41 percent in FY1997 to 27 percent in the first three quarters of FY1999.

Marijuana remains very popular among youths, who perceive the drug to be less risky than cocaine, heroin, or LSD. Of Massachusetts high school students assessed by the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, 50.2 percent reported ever using marijuana, more than reported using all other surveyed drugs combined (inhalants, cocaine, methamphetamine, steroids, and heroin). A smaller percentage, 30.6, reported using marijuana during the 30 days preceding the survey, and 12.5 percent reported using the drug before they were 13 years old. The patterns of use were similar in Boston, but the user percentages were markedly lower: 38.2 percent reported ever using marijuana, 20.5 percent reported using marijuana during the 30 days preceding the survey, and 9.4 percent reported using the drug before the age of 13. One report states that marijuana use among adolescents is approaching the level of cigarette use.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MASSCAN) is trying to gather the 57,100 votes needed to put several pro-marijuana proposals before the state legislature. These proposals would (1) legalize the sale of marijuana as long as taxes are paid on the sale, (2) legalize adult possession of up to 7 cannabis plants or 16 ounces (453.4 grams) of harvested marijuana, and (3) lower the penalties for possessing a small quantity of marijuana, treating possession as a "violation" (like exceeding the speed limit while driving) rather than a "crime."

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Mexican-produced marijuana is widely available in Boston, across Massachusetts, and throughout New England. Marijuana submissions to the Massachusetts DPH's Drug Analysis Laboratory have risen steadily since 1992 and accounted for 35 percent of total drug submissions in 1998. In the first half of 1999, the percentage was again 35 percent, higher than for any drug including cocaine (32%) and heroin (15%).36 Officers participating in DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program eradicated 5,443 outdoor cultivated and 91 indoor cultivated plants across the state, made 15 arrests, and seized 40 weapons and nearly $200,000 in assets in 1999.

Marijuana prices and purity levels were stable in 1999. Table 2 lists prices reported by Massachusetts law enforcement.

 Table 2. Marijuana Prices, Massachusetts
Amount Price Range
Gram $10 - $20
Ounce $75 - $500
1/4 Pound $300 - $400
Pound $650 - $4,000

Source: Compiled from DEA, Massachusetts State Police, and Springfield and Lowell Police Department Sources, 1999.



Marijuana trafficking and distribution are associated with a moderate level of violent crime in Massachusetts. Some marijuana traffickers and distributors commit violent acts while protecting or expanding their market area, others when stealing marijuana or protecting their marijuana from being stolen. Because the marijuana trade yields very large profits, violence within and among trafficking organizations and distribution groups does sometimes occur. Law enforcement in Boston believes there is more violence associated with the marijuana trade than with the powdered cocaine trade. However, marijuana abusers generally are not driven to steal money to finance an addiction, as are some heroin and cocaine abusers.



Most marijuana in Massachusetts is of Mexican origin, but some cannabis is cultivated in the state. Seizures of indoor grows were up in 1999, and the size of outdoor plots discovered in Massachusetts was higher in 1999 than in past years. Indoor grows are more common in urban areas, outdoor grows in rural areas. No hydroponic cultivation has been reported in the state.

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Jamaican and Caucasian criminal organizations are the predominant marijuana traffickers in Massachusetts, and they coordinate with domestic and international suppliers to transport wholesale quantities of marijuana into the state. Dominican trafficking organizations are involved to a lesser extent. Most marijuana distributed in Massachusetts originates in Mexico and is supplied by organizations in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas. In the past, shipments have been transported to Massachusetts from Florida and Georgia and from foreign locations in Colombia and Jamaica. Law enforcement has documented Dominican organizations moving marijuana from Texas to Lawrence through Buffalo or through Chicago and New York City, and from Florida to Lawrence through Newark. The same authorities also have documented a Mexican DTO transporting marijuana from Texas to Lawrence through Atlanta. Law enforcement believes these transporters passed through the transshipment cities to provide marijuana to wholesalers there, an indicator that some transporters ship drugs for multiple distributors based in different cities. The FBI investigation "Border Express" targeted a Mexican transportation organization based in El Paso, Texas, that coordinated and transported 300- to 2,000-pound shipments of Mexican marijuana to Dominican wholesalers based in Lawrence and Lowell and to wholesalers in several other U.S. cities. Shipments occurred about once a month, and the total amount transported was estimated at 18 tons.

Wholesalers in Massachusetts use various methods to transport marijuana from the U.S. West and Southwest to Massachusetts. Caucasian, Jamaican, Mexican, and Dominican trafficking organizations transport large quantities overland in cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, and railcars. Shipments generally are 200-1,000 pounds, although 2,000-pound shipments have occurred. Significant but lesser amounts (usually 5-50 lb)37 are sent by mail. Massachusetts is a regional hub for several commercial mail carriers and is a major repository for the U.S. Postal Service in New England. Traffickers ship marijuana via private-sector mail services so they can track the progress of the shipment on the Internet using the package's tracking number. If law enforcement discovers the marijuana and tries to do a controlled delivery, the package will be delayed and the traffickers will know to abandon it.38 Small quantities of marijuana are also transported into the state by couriers and in luggage aboard commercial air flights.

Bulk shipments are repackaged and distributed throughout the state, often on consignment, and significant amounts are transshipped through Massachusetts to destinations farther north. Lawrence and Lowell, north of Boston, are transshipment points for marijuana transported to northern New England. Commercial-grade marijuana in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont is often obtained from middlemen in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New York State.

Law enforcement in central Massachusetts reports one investigation in which transporters brought hashish from Canada to New England. Law enforcement in Boston reports that marijuana has been transshipped from Canada to Massachusetts and through Massachusetts to New York City.

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Caucasian and Jamaican trafficking organizations predominate wholesale marijuana distribution in Massachusetts. Dominican organizations and street gangs also are involved in wholesale activity, but to a lesser extent. Caucasian, Jamaican, Dominican, and ethnic Asian criminal groups and street gangs engage in retail sales. In central Massachusetts, Jamaican distribution groups are believed to be the chief retailers in urban areas and Caucasian retailers are believed to predominate in rural areas.

According to responses to a 2000 NDIC survey, gangs that law enforcement identifies as the most significant in their area are involved in drug trafficking in northeastern (Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex Counties), central (Worcester County), and southeastern (Bristol County) Massachusetts. All respondents except one (Bristol County) that listed specific drug types, reported that one or more of the most significant gangs in their area distribute marijuana.

Massachusetts' drug distributors use cell phones, pagers, and pay phones (dialing with phone cards) to communicate with fellow distributors, arrange shipments, and meet with buyers. More and more, traffickers are also communicating with one another over the Internet, which is too expansive for law enforcement to monitor easily.


End Notes

36According to FDSS drug seizure data, marijuana seizures rose from 27 kilograms in FY1997 to 161.7 kilograms in FY1998 and 1,169.1 kilograms in FY2000. However, state and local data provide a more accurate picture of availability in the state because state and local officials make most of the marijuana seizures in Massachusetts.
37. Transporters usually mail quantities less than 50 pounds, which is a misdemeanor.
38. DEA and multiagency task force divide the responsibility for interdicting drugs that are shipped to Massachusetts by way of nationwide express mail services.

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