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Drug Intelligence Center
Louisiana Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the state and its use is continuing to rise. Most marijuana consumed in Louisiana is grown in Mexico and smuggled across the Southwest Border although police report the market for high-quality indoor produced marijuana is increasing. Law enforcement authorities in Louisiana cities and towns identify street gangs as the primary retail distributors of marijuana, while law enforcement authorities in rural areas identify local independent dealers as the primary distributors.
Marijuana is the most widely abused illegal drug in the state especially among the young. A 1999 survey of Louisiana high school students shows that more than 40 percent had tried marijuana during their lifetime (35 % of females and 46 % of males) and that 20 percent had used it within the last 30 days. The same survey found that 10 percent had tried marijuana before the age of 13 (7 % of females and 13 % of males).
Marijuana abuse rates in Louisiana are slightly lower than the national average. The NHSDA reports just over 14 percent of Louisianians aged 18 to 25 used marijuana during the last month, lower than the national average of almost 17 percent. Overall, use of marijuana during the past month was 1 percent lower than the national average of 6.9 percent.
DAWN ED data for New Orleans indicate a decline in the number of emergency department marijuana mentions. After increasing from 491 in 1992 to 1,345 in 1997, the numbers have fallen off to 1,196 in 1998 and 1,044 in 1999.
ADAM data show that while the number of male arrestees testing positive for marijuana remained stable, the number of females testing positive increased. From 1996 to 1999 between 38 and 40 percent of males tested positive for marijuana, while the percentage of women testing positive for marijuana jumped from 13 to almost 25 percent.
According to statewide arrest information, the number of arrests for marijuana possession has fluctuated between 1995 and 1999 although the number of arrests for marijuana possession is consistently higher than the number of arrests for the sale of marijuana.
Chart 3. Marijuana Arrests
in Louisiana, 1995-1999
Marijuana abuse demographics in New Orleans differ from the rest of the state. SEWG statistics indicate more than 75 percent of the people throughout Louisiana admitted to treatment programs for marijuana abuse were younger than 30 years old. Orleans is the only parish in the work group where a third of all marijuana treatment admissions was for persons over the age of 30. In all other parishes the average age of people admitted to treatment centers was overwhelmingly under age 30. In a sign that the marijuana abuse problem is continuing to grow, more than half of the parishes surveyed reached their highest levels of admissions for marijuana abuse in 1998, the last year treatment program admission data is available. (See Table 6.)
Table 6. Marijuana Treatment
Admissions in Louisiana
Marijuana is the most readily available drug in Louisiana and Mexico-produced, commercial-grade marijuana is the most widely available type. Louisiana's proximity to Texas and the Southwest Border ensures a steady supply of Mexico-produced marijuana, which is inexpensive in large part because of its low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content (average 3.3 %). Midlevel wholesalers generally sell marijuana by the pound for between $500 and $1,000. The price of marijuana sold by the ounce varies, but generally speaking, the price hovers around $100.
Multikilogram- to metric ton-quantities are transported regularly through Louisiana, although most large shipments (over 20 kg) are destined for states to the east and north of Louisiana. The USCS reports both the number of seizures and the total amount of marijuana seized along the Southwest Border are increasing.
Violence associated with marijuana is generally limited to gangs, other organized crime elements, and individuals involved in transportation, distribution, and cultivation. Marijuana abusers generally do not commit violent crimes to get money to purchase the drug. While marijuana abuse is not normally tied directly to violent behavior, ADAM statistics for New Orleans reveal that over 38 percent of males arrested for violent crimes in 1999 tested positive for marijuana.
Domestic cannabis growers are often heavily armed and commonly us boobytraps 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 cannabis plots. The number of weapons seized during cannabis eradication program operations nationwide more than doubled over the past decade.
Louisiana provides an adequate environment for cannabis cultivation. The growing season extends for most of the year because of the state's generally temperate climate. Cannabis is sometimes intermixed with other crops, making it visible only from the air. Outdoor cannabis cultivation appears to be decreasing in Louisiana while the use of indoor growing techniques is increasing.
Louisiana law enforcement personnel indicate the widespread availability of inexpensive Mexico-produced marijuana as the main reason behind a decrease in domestic outdoor cultivation. Other factors cited for the decrease in domestic cultivation are increased eradication efforts and recent droughts. Because marijuana from Mexico is of substantially lower quality and less expensive than domestic marijuana, it is used frequently to "bulk up" domestic marijuana and increase profits. This allows domestic growers to keep plots much smaller, thus making detection more difficult.
Horticultural techniques found on the Internet and in magazines are also contributing to an increase in the number of indoor cannabis grows. Indoor growing techniques, including hydroponics, are preferred by growers seeking a high-potency, high-quality product. Indoor grows range in size from small closets to warehouses. Indoor cannabis cultivation requires diligent oversight because the grower must provide or regulate growth media, light, heat, humidity, and fertilizer. In Louisiana, the number of indoor cannabis grows eradicated by law enforcement increased from 17 in 1998 to 34 in 1999 while the number of outdoor grows eradicated decreased from 229 in 1998 to 138 in 1999.
Most marijuana shipped to Louisiana is transported from Houston or other cities in south Texas. Houston is a major marijuana distribution center, servicing distributors from around the country. Most marijuana seized on Louisiana's interstate highways is destined for markets in the southern and northeastern United States. Mexican criminals frequently transport marijuana in 30- to 100-pound shipments concealed in private vehicles. Marijuana seizures on Louisiana's interstate highways increased from 11,452 pounds in 1998 to 16,983 pounds in 2000.
Commercial vehicles are frequently used to transport marijuana
into and through the state. According to a threat assessment commissioned
by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Louisiana was home to 12.7 percent
(15 out of 118) of all significant marijuana seizures occurring from commercial
vehicles from June 1999 to June 2000. A significant seizure was defined
as 100 pounds or more. Marijuana has been intermixed with legitimate goods
such as furniture, clothing, and produce. Distributors and couriers also
modify vehicles by building false compartments into the floors, walls,
and ceilings of utility trailers. One distributor was apprehended on Interstate
12 near Hammond, Louisiana, with over 3,300 pounds of marijuana hidden
in a secret chamber inside a modified tanker trailer hauling tar. The
shipment originated in McAllen, Texas, and was bound for Atlanta, Georgia.
More than 90 percent of all drug seizures made by the Louisiana State
Police were from eastbound vehicles.
Smaller quantities of marijuana (less than 1 kilogram) are often mailed using overnight delivery services. Police report distributors are frequently making "dry runs" in which parcels containing legitimate materials permeated with the smell of marijuana are sent to locations throughout Louisiana. If those packages make it to their destinations unhindered, then the shipment containing the marijuana shortly follows. The actual shipments are generally covered with a layer of material such as axle grease or laundry dryer sheets, intended to mask the smell of the marijuana.
With an increase in law enforcement pressure along the Southwest Border, marijuana smugglers are occasionally using routes through the Gulf of Mexico. Maritime smugglers are able to utilize the diverse Louisiana coastline, which includes many secluded inlets, marshes, and remote areas. Although there is little evidence to prove it is occurring on a large scale, law enforcement authorities assert marijuana smugglers are using cargo vessels, pleasure boats, and fishing boats to transport large quantities of marijuana into the state via the Gulf of Mexico. The boats sail up the coast of Mexico, to either ports or dropoff sites along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
The primary wholesalers of marijuana in Louisiana are the same midlevel distribution groups and street gangs who supply most of the cocaine. Police report that wholesale marijuana distribution is also carried out by independent distributors with connections to Mexican criminal groups in Houston and south Texas.
Police throughout the state report Louisiana's proximity to Texas and the Southwest Border and the widespread availability of cheap, Mexico-produced marijuana make distributing wholesale quantities of marijuana in Louisiana a lucrative business. Police report some distribution organizations actually prefer to distribute marijuana exclusively because penalties are not as severe as those for distributing cocaine.
Law enforcement authorities in cities and towns identify street gangs as the primary retail distributors of marijuana, while law enforcement authorities in rural areas identify local dealers as the primary distributors. In rural areas, many people prefer to purchase marijuana from someone they know rather than from an unknown person in a larger city. Law enforcement authorities throughout the state report both street gangs and independent distributors often pool their money and send representatives to Houston to buy wholesale quantities of marijuana. These street gangs are normally polydrug organizations which also purchase wholesale quantities of cocaine. Because marijuana is so widely used, retail distributors often take advantage of "niches" such as high schools and colleges to sell marijuana.
Police report that students are heavily involved in the retail distribution of marijuana at universities and colleges throughout the state. There are approximately 26 four-year colleges and universities as well as numerous community, technical, and business colleges in Louisiana and as the abuse statistics indicate, most users are college age or near college age.
Retail distributors use various techniques to sell marijuana. A California man was arrested for selling marijuana to undercover police in Louisiana via the Internet. The man claimed to be selling the marijuana for medical use only, saying, "The only reason I did this was to help the sick people who cannot get it." He had mailed 994 packages of marijuana to 149 customers in 35 states prior to his arrest.
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