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Ohio Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001


Marijuana continues to be the most prevalent drug throughout Ohio. Law enforcement agencies report that it is encountered during most drug arrests and raids. Marijuana has been the most abused illicit drug in Ohio, and treatment records indicate that its abuse is still increasing.

Most marijuana in Ohio is shipped from Mexico across the Southwest Border. Large quantities of marijuana are shipped into Ohio primarily overland, and smaller quantities through mail and package delivery services. Mexican DTOs are the predominant wholesale suppliers of marijuana in Ohio.

The rural areas of Ohio provide an adequate environment for the outdoor cultivation of cannabis, most of which occurs in the southern part of the state. While there has been some indication that outdoor cannabis cultivation is declining, the number of indoor grow operations seized in Ohio is increasing. Some of these sophisticated indoor operations produce high quality marijuana.


Marijuana abuse in Ohio is prevalent and comparative to rates of abuse in other states in the region. Estimates from the NHSDA indicate that in 1999, 3,556,224 Ohio residents aged 12 or older reported using marijuana or hashish at least once in their lifetime. The percentage of individuals aged 12 or older reporting marijuana or hashish use at least once in their lifetime in Ohio (38.4) is slightly less than in other states in the Great Lakes Region such as Illinois (41.8) and Michigan (43.8).

The number of publicly funded treatment admissions for marijuana abuse increased more than 31 percent from 1996 to 1999. Admissions to Ohio's treatment programs listing marijuana as the primary substance of abuse were 12,949 in 1996, compared with 18,788 in 1999.

Caucasians are the primary marijuana users in Ohio. Adult Caucasians accounted for 58.7 percent of admissions for marijuana abuse. Adult African Americans ranked second, accounting for 37.2 percent. The numbers are similar for juvenile admissions: in 1999, juvenile Caucasians accounted for 63.7 percent of admissions for marijuana abuse, and juvenile African Americans accounted for 31.3 percent.

In 1999, most treatment admissions for marijuana abuse in Ohio were under age 18 (37.5 %). More than 80 percent of these juvenile admissions were between 15 and 18.

The rate of marijuana abuse appears to relate to the education level and employment status of users. Individuals with a high school education or less accounted for 87.7 percent of all admissions for marijuana abuse in 1999. Unemployed individuals and those not in the labor force accounted for 71.6 percent of admissions for marijuana abuse in Ohio.

Marijuana use among young adults arrested in the Cleveland area increased significantly from 1990 to 1998. In 1990, only 14 percent of male and female arrestees between the ages of 15 and 20 tested positive for marijuana, compared with more than 68 percent in 1998.

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Marijuana remains the most readily available drug in the state. Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) statistics show that more than 2 metric tons of marijuana were seized in Ohio during each fiscal year from 1997 through 1999. All DEA Resident Offices in Ohio, as well as local law enforcement agencies responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey, report that marijuana is widely available in their areas. The available supply of marijuana in northern Ohio ranges from kilogram to multihundred-kilogram quantities. Multihundred-kilogram quantities of commercial-grade, Mexican-produced marijuana are readily available in the Cincinnati area from sources along the Southwest Border. Four OCDETF investigations initiated in 1999 targeted groups distributing large quantities of marijuana in Ohio. More than half of the 1999 Operation Pipeline seizures recorded in Ohio involved marijuana. One 1999 Operation Pipeline seizure in Ohio involved slightly more than 1,250 kilograms of marijuana that was destined for Ohio from Texas. All of the district offices of the Ohio BCI&I report widespread marijuana availability.

Relatively stable, and in some cases declining, prices suggest that there is a steady supply of marijuana in Ohio. According to MAGLOCLEN, prices for commercial-grade marijuana have remained relatively stable since 1995; in some cases, prices have declined slightly. The average price for an ounce of commercial-grade marijuana in 1995 was $180, compared with $160 in 1997 and $150 in 1999.



Marijuana abuse normally is not tied to violent behavior. However, ADAM statistics for 1997 through 1999 in Cleveland reveal that of males and females arrested for a violent offense a higher percentage tested positive for marijuana than for cocaine. (See Chart 3 for 1999 data.)

Chart 3. Cleveland Arrestees for Violent Offenses Testing Positive
for Marijuana and Cocaine, 1999

Chart showing percentage of persons arrested for violent offenses in Cleveland testing positive for marijuana and cocaine in 1999 broken down by gender.
Male        Female
Source: Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM), 1999.

Cannabis growers in the United States often are heavily armed and commonly use booby traps and warning devices to protect their cultivation sites from law enforcement authorities and the public. The U.S. Forest Service reports that visitors to public lands may be endangered by the presence of cannabis cultivation sites, which routinely are booby-trapped with explosives, trip-wire firing devices, hanging fishhooks, and punji stakes buried around the cannabis plots. The number of weapons seized during cannabis eradication program operations nationwide has more than doubled over the past decade.

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Despite a limited growing season, the fertile soil and sparsely populated areas of rural Ohio attract cannabis growers. There are at least 74,000 farms in Ohio, encompassing more than 1,400,000 acres, and cannabis often is intermixed with legitimate crops like corn and soybean. Ohio's 73 state parks offer many more thousands of acres that can be exploited by cannabis cultivators. The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area alone encompasses 33,000 acres. In 1999, the U.S. Forest Service seized 1,306 pounds of cannabis plants and processed marijuana on national forest lands in Ohio.

The expansive rural areas of Ohio, predominantly in the south, provide many opportunities to grow cannabis outdoors. The DEA Cleveland Resident Office states that most cultivation in the state takes place in southern Ohio and that limited indoor and outdoor operations occur in the northeastern areas. Law enforcement authorities report sporadic outdoor cultivation in the rural areas surrounding Dayton. Statistics from the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program indicate that while the number of cannabis plants seized outdoors in Ohio decreased from 1997 to 1999, the number of indoor grow operations seized has increased since 1997. The number of indoor grows seized in 1997 was 27, compared with 43 in 1998 and 57 in 1999. In northern Ohio, the use of hydroponics and other sophisticated indoor growing techniques that produce sinsemilla with a high THC content continues to increase. Small-scale indoor grow operations that produced commercial-grade marijuana with a lower THC content have been discovered in the Dayton area.


In a hydroponics operation, cannabis is not grown in soil; instead, growers use an inert growing medium to support the plant and its root system. Some popular media include rock wool, vermiculite, perlite, and clay pellets.

Source: NDIC, Indoor Cannabis Cultivation Operations, January 2000.  



All districts of the Ohio BCI&I report that most of the marijuana available in their areas originates in Mexico and is shipped to Ohio from various Southwest Border states. DEA Resident Offices in Ohio also cite the Southwest Border as the predominant source area for marijuana. The Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo Police Departments all report that marijuana is transported into their areas from the Southwest Border. A review of 1999 Operation Pipeline seizure information reveals that 34 out of 57 stops in Ohio for marijuana positively identified the source area as the Southwest Border. Half of the 1999 Operation Pipeline seizures in Ohio involved marijuana, and most of these shipments originated in a Southwest Border state, usually Arizona, California, or Texas.

On September 7, 2000, federal, state, and local drug agents conducted raids in Ohio and Michigan that led to 36 people being charged with transporting more than 900 kilograms of marijuana from Mexico to northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan through Texas and Chicago. A 3-year investigation by the DEA, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Mad River Drug Task Force culminated in the indictment of seven people accused of transporting multiton quantities of marijuana directly from Mexico through Texas into counties surrounding Dayton.   

Large quantities of marijuana are shipped into Ohio mainly overland, and smaller quantities through package delivery services and the mail. Marijuana is transported into northwestern Ohio inside hidden compartments in automobiles and sport utility vehicles, with legitimate cargo inside tractor-trailers, and in parcels shipped through package delivery services. Marijuana is compressed into bales or bricks and shipped to southwestern Ohio inside older cars, pickup trucks, and tractor-trailers. Package delivery services, private vehicles, and the mail are used to ship marijuana into northeastern Ohio. According to DEA, there has been an increase in the amount of marijuana shipped into the Cincinnati area through package delivery services. The Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo Police Departments indicate that marijuana is shipped into and transported within their areas via vehicles and package delivery services.

Marijuana also is transported into Ohio on commercial airlines, primarily from Mexico and California. Jamaican traffickers from San Diego use commercial airlines to send couriers with Mexican marijuana concealed inside luggage into north central Ohio. In the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey, the Cleveland and Columbus Police Departments reported the use of commercial airlines to transport marijuana into their areas.

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According to the Ohio HIDTA, Mexican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale suppliers of marijuana in its area. The Ohio BCI&I reports that Mexican criminal groups supply multihundred-kilogram quantities of marijuana to most districts throughout the state. Mexican criminal groups ship multihundred-kilogram quantities of marijuana from the Southwest Border to Cleveland. Mexican criminal groups operating in northern Kentucky supply wholesale amounts of marijuana to the Cincinnati area. In the Toledo area, Mexican criminal groups supply kilogram to multihundred-kilogram quantities of marijuana to local distributors. The Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo Police Departments also indicate that Mexican criminal groups are responsible for shipping wholesale quantities of marijuana into their areas.

Local independent and Jamaican criminal groups also are responsible for shipping wholesale amounts of marijuana into Ohio in quantities ranging from 1 kilogram to several hundred kilograms. Eight of fifteen law enforcement agencies responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicated that local independent groups are the dominant wholesalers of marijuana in their areas. Jamaican criminal groups operating from Los Angeles and San Diego use couriers traveling on commercial airlines to transport wholesale quantities of marijuana to the Cleveland area.



No single group controls marijuana distribution at the retail level. Street gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords, as well as local independent gangs, are responsible for retail marijuana distribution in metropolitan areas such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Youngstown. More than half of the agencies in Ohio responding to the NDIC Gang Survey 2000 report that street gangs are involved directly in retail distribution. Ohio law enforcement agencies responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicate that Caucasian, Mexican, Jamaican, and other Caribbean criminal groups, as well as local independents, are responsible for most retail distribution of marijuana in their areas.

Gangster Disciples

The Gangster Disciples is the largest Chicago-based street gang. The makeup of the Gangster Disciples is primarily African American. The gang has been in existence since the early 1960s and is structured similar to a corporation. Members conduct illegal drug operations throughout the Chicago area, primarily in low-income areas on the south and west sides of the city. The Gangster Disciples operates its drug distribution networks throughout Illinois and has been identified in more than 40 states across the nation. The Gangster Disciples has been in a state of flux because law enforcement authorities have targeted members in recent years. Investigations have resulted in indictments and convictions of almost 40 leaders, including Larry Hoover, who had served as "Chairman of the Board" since the early 1970s. At their peak, the retail drug operations of the Gangster Disciples were reportedly worth more than $100 million annually.

Latin Kings

The Latin Kings, also known as the Almighty Latin King Nation, is a predominantly Hispanic street gang affiliated with the People Nation. The gang is made up of more than 70 factions that operate under the overall structure of the gang. The Latin Kings operates its drug trafficking enterprises on the northern and southwestern sides of Chicago. The gang also has expanded its drug trafficking to other parts of Illinois, as well as to other states, including Ohio.   

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