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New Mexico Drug Threat Assessment
April 2002


Marijuana is the most readily available and most commonly abused drug in New Mexico. Most of the marijuana available in New Mexico is produced in Mexico; however, cannabis is cultivated in the state by local independent growers. While Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups dominate the transportation and wholesale distribution of Mexico-produced marijuana throughout the state, local independent dealers control the wholesale distribution of locally produced marijuana. Mexican criminal groups, street gangs, and local independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of Mexico- and locally produced marijuana throughout New Mexico.


Marijuana abuse is prevalent in New Mexico. Data from TEDS indicate that treatment admissions for marijuana decreased overall from 471 admissions in 1993 to 386 admissions in 1998. However, a disparity in data reporting for 1998 admissions to substance abuse treatment programs occurred and resulted in underreporting. Marijuana was the drug for which most individuals sought treatment in New Mexico during 1998.

Marijuana abuse, particularly among adolescents, continues to be a serious problem in New Mexico. According to the 1999 YRBS, 53.5 percent of high school students surveyed reported lifetime use of marijuana. According to the Substance Use Among Albuquerque's Adult Population survey, 15 was the mean age of first marijuana use reported by Albuquerque resident respondents.

Marijuana use among youth and young adults is more common in New Mexico than nationwide. The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows that 9.2 percent of New Mexico respondents aged 12 to 17 reported using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days compared with 7.2 percent nationwide. Of respondents aged 18 to 25 in the state, 16.9 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days compared with 14.2 percent nationwide.

Marijuana use is prevalent among adult male arrestees in Albuquerque. According to 2000 ADAM data, 47.3 percent of adult male arrestees in Albuquerque tested positive for marijuana. Among male arrestees, 63.8 percent of African American, 49.4 percent of Hispanic, and 40.3 percent of Caucasian arrestees tested positive for the drug. (See Table 3 in Overview section.)

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Marijuana is readily available throughout New Mexico. Most of the marijuana available in the state is produced in Mexico; however, some locally produced marijuana also is available. While prices vary throughout the state, marijuana generally is less expensive in areas where Mexico-produced marijuana is abundant, such as urban areas and in locations near the border. For example, the price of marijuana averages $350 per pound in Las Cruces and $400 per pound in Albuquerque; however, in rural Catron County, the drug can cost as much as $1,500 per pound. Potency levels were unavailable.

Marijuana continues to be the most prevalent drug seized by the USCS in New Mexico. The total amount of marijuana seized at the Columbus and Santa Teresa POEs increased significantly from 37,023 pounds in FY1999, to 62,795 pounds in FY2000. (See Table 5 in Cocaine section.) Most of the marijuana seizures in the state occur at the Columbus POE, located in Luna County. However, in July 2001 the USCS seized 2,705 pounds of marijuana at the Santa Teresa POE. The marijuana was concealed in a tractor-trailer that was transporting jalapeņo peppers from Mexico. A total of 75 metal boxes containing marijuana were found in the ceiling of the tractor-trailer. The marijuana had an estimated street value of more than $2,700,000.



There are no reported occurrences of violence associated with marijuana production and distribution in New Mexico. However, in the United States cultivators often employ armed guards to protect indoor and outdoor grow sites. Distributors commonly commit violent acts to protect their territory.

Marijuana use typically is not linked directly to violent behavior. However, ADAM data for Albuquerque reveal that 38.3 percent of males arrested for violent crimes and tested for drug use in 2000 tested positive for marijuana. ADAM 2000 data indicate that 55.6 percent of females arrested for violent crimes and tested for drug use tested positive for marijuana.

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Most of the marijuana available in New Mexico is produced in Mexico. Marijuana is produced throughout New Mexico to a lesser extent. Law enforcement officials statewide report that outdoor cannabis cultivation is more common than indoor cultivation. The climate and vast, sparsely populated rural areas of New Mexico create a suitable environment for outdoor cannabis cultivation. Outdoor growers often cultivate cannabis among natural vegetation in an effort to camouflage the crop.

Ten-Acre Marijuana Field Discovered

Agents from the Region IV Narcotics Task Force discovered a 10-acre marijuana field during a "fly over" in northern New Mexico. The field was located in marshy land off New Mexico Route 58 between Cimarron and Springer. The estimated street value of the marijuana was $250,000.

Source: Associated Press, 27 July 2001.

Although cannabis usually is cultivated outdoors, indoor grows have been seized by law enforcement authorities in the state. DEA supports various state and local agencies in New Mexico that participate in the Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program (DCE/SP). In 2000 DCE/SP seized 1,148 cannabis plants from outdoor cultivation sites, 368 cannabis plants from indoor grows, and made 15 arrests related to cannabis cultivation in New Mexico. The Las Cruces DEA/HIDTA Task Force reports that the number of cannabis grow sites has increased in southern New Mexico.

Cannabis cultivated indoors in New Mexico typically is intended for personal consumption; however, growers may employ sophisticated cultivation techniques to increase the number of cannabis plants. Furthermore, cannabis grown indoors, especially hydroponically, usually has higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels than cannabis grown outdoors. Although indoor cannabis cultivation occurs in New Mexico, hydroponic systems are uncommon.

Indoor Cannabis Cultivation

Growers may use hydroponic cultivation techniques to grow cannabis. In a hydroponic operation, marijuana 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.

Indoor Growing Techniques

Growers may automate indoor cannabis cultivation using computers and multitask controllers. Computers can be used to monitor the plants' development as well as environmental factors, such as light, water, and temperature, and to maintain cultivation records and store customer information. Multitask automatic controllers are powered by electricity and usually are fully programmable, using timers and sensors to monitor and control the grow environment. Controllers have the advantage of being more economical and easier to use than computers. Computers that can be accessed from a separate site and multitask controllers that can be programmed require minimum oversight, allowing cannabis growers to distance themselves from cultivation sites. Electronically controlled cannabis operations also require less manpower during the growing phase.

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Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups control the transportation of marijuana into New Mexico. These DTOs and criminal groups often employ drug transporters and couriers to smuggle marijuana into the state. Marijuana frequently is transported across the Southwest Border concealed in false compartments in vehicles or intermingled with legitimate cargo. According to the USBP, the smuggling of marijuana by couriers using backpacks and horses has increased in Luna and Hidalgo Counties.

Mexico-produced marijuana typically is transported to New Mexico from Ciudad Juarez and Palomas, Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Los Angeles, California. According to Operation Pipeline 2000 data, over 5,130 kilograms of marijuana were seized during 68 traffic stops on New Mexico highways. The principal marijuana smuggling routes included I-10, I-25, I-40, US 54, US 84, and SR-9. In May 2000 INS and USBP agents on SR-9 in Playas seized 1,745 kilograms of marijuana from a truck with Missouri plates. When agents attempted the traffic stop, the driver failed to yield, crashed through a chain-link fence, abandoned the vehicle, and fled on foot. The 265 marijuana bundles, wrapped in cellophane and marked with their weights in kilograms or pounds, were discovered inside the truck's cargo area.

Juveniles often are used as couriers in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement authorities. According to the USCS, drug smugglers increasingly are using Las Cruces teenagers to smuggle drugs over the border into the United States. Traffickers tell them no action will be taken against them because they are so young. During 1 week in March 2000, USCS inspectors detained six juveniles on suspicion of drug smuggling. Four of the juvenile drug couriers were 16 years old, and two were 17. Allegedly, the six teenagers carried 500 pounds of marijuana valued at $500,000.



Various groups are involved in the wholesale distribution of marijuana in New Mexico. Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups dominate wholesale distribution of Mexico-produced marijuana throughout the state. These Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups work through established networks and distribute Mexico-produced marijuana to prison and street gangs in the urban areas of the state. Though wholesale quantities of locally produced marijuana are uncommon, local independent dealers who operate highly sophisticated cannabis cultivation operations are known to distribute the drug at the wholesale level.

At the retail level various groups are involved in the distribution of marijuana in New Mexico. Mexican criminal groups and prison and street gangs generally distribute Mexico-produced marijuana, while some local independent dealers distribute either or both types of the drug.


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