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North Dakota Drug Threat Assessment
May 2002


North Dakota

Map of North Dakota.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

North Dakota, one of the least populated states in the nation, has nearly 650,000 residents. The population is 92.3 percent Caucasian, 4.9 percent Native American/Alaska Native, 1.2 per-cent Hispanic, 0.6 percent African American, 0.6 percent Asian, and 0.4 percent categorized as other. North Dakota has four Native American Indian reservations--Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock Nation, Fort Berthold, and Spirit Lake Nation--and one Native American community, the Trenton Indian Service Area. The Lake Traverse (Sisseton) Reservation, which is located primarily in northeastern South Dakota, extends northward to include the southeastern North Dakota counties of Sargent and Richland.

Fast Facts
North Dakota
Population (2000) 642,200
U.S. population ranking 47th
Median household income (2000) $34,665
Unemployment rate (2001) 2.4%
Land area 68,976 square miles
Capital Bismarck
Other principal cities Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot
Number of counties 53
Principal industries Agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, mining, and tourism

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North Dakota is a rural state dominated by grasslands. The state's leading industries are grain and beef production. With a land area of nearly 69,000 square miles, North Dakota has a population density of 9.3 persons per square mile. The Red River Valley, where Fargo and Grand Forks are located, is the most densely populated area of the state. The remaining population of North Dakota is concentrated in the cities of Bismarck, Dickinson, and Minot.

North Dakota's highways facilitate illicit drug transportation and distribution into and through the state. Interstates 29 and 94, intersecting at Fargo, are the major interstates in North Dakota. Fargo and Grand Forks are linked with Canada to the north and Kansas City, Missouri, to the south via I-29. Interstate 94 connects Bismarck and Fargo with Minneapolis and Chicago, both drug distribution centers. U.S. Highways 83, 85, and 281 tie North Dakota to Canada as well as points south.

North Dakota shares its northern border with the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. North Dakota has 18 authorized land ports of entry (POEs), but only 3 of these are staffed 24 hours a day. The border is remote and sparsely populated. Numerous roads lack U.S. Customs Service or U.S. Border Patrol stations. On a daily basis local residents on both sides of the border cross unchallenged. These remote areas provide criminal groups with opportunities to smuggle drugs and other contraband without detection by law enforcement personnel.

Mexican criminal groups use various means to transport drugs into North Dakota. Private vehicles are the most common means used to transport drugs, although package delivery services, tractor-trailers, and rail services also are used. Drugs may also be transported by aircraft. Though limited, commercial airline services are available primarily in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot. Although there are relatively few commercial air flights, the state has many small local airports and remote landing strips. Many of these strips provide unrestricted access to Canada, a possible source of drugs and contraband.

Mexican criminal groups use Native Americans and Indian reservations to facilitate drug distribution in North Dakota. The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission reports that the unemployment rate on Indian reservations averages 55 percent. This high rate of unemployment may result in a large number of individuals who are willing to engage in criminal activities to support themselves. Mexican criminal groups often employ members of the Native American population to distribute drugs on and off the reservations. The groups routinely use private vehicles to transport drugs into reservations from Mexico and California. Native American independent dealers distribute the drugs to Caucasian abusers in cities such as Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks. Caucasian abusers also go to reservations to purchase marijuana and methamphetamine. Drug investigations, which are complicated by jurisdictional issues regarding the sovereignty of Indian reservations, require a cooperative effort among tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. The remote locations of these reservations provide potential sites for methamphetamine production, although to date there have been few reports of this activity occurring on North Dakota reservations. 

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African American street gangs have been involved in limited retail distribution of powdered cocaine and, to a very limited extent, crack cocaine in urban areas of the state; however, drug-related gang activity is not considered a significant threat. An African American street gang reportedly purchased cocaine in St. Cloud and St. Paul, Minnesota, for distribution in Fargo. The gang also allegedly maintained connections to gangs based in Chicago, Illinois. Drug-related gang activity also has been reported in the North Dakota cities of Dickinson and Williston.

There are no open-air drug markets in North Dakota. This is attributable to the limited supplies of drugs such as heroin and powdered and crack cocaine, which are often sold at open-air markets in other states, and to North Dakota's harsh climate.

Drug abuse remains a concern in North Dakota. The 1999 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) indicates that annual treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for alcohol and/ or drug abuse in North Dakota increased overall from 2,409 in 1994 to 2,659 in 1998 and then decreased to 2,108 in 1999. The same report notes that males composed 72.6 percent of North Dakota residents 18 years and older admitted for treatment for all drugs (alcohol included) in 1999. Individuals aged 21 to 25 and those aged 31 to 35 accounted for the highest percentage of treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities--14.0 and 13.6 percent, respectively. In 1999, of the total number of individuals in treatment for alcohol and/or drug abuse in North Dakota (2,108), 24.8 percent (523) were American Indian/Alaska Native, a disproportionate percentage.

Drug abuse is widespread among arrestees in North Dakota. The North Dakota Department of Corrections reported that in 1999, 56 percent of all arrestees incarcerated at correction facilities were sentenced for violent and/or drug-related crimes, and 62 percent of those incarcerated had a problem with chemical dependency. Furthermore, 80 percent of all offenders confessed that they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol upon commission of a crime.

Arrest and sentencing data may indicate increasing drug availability throughout North Dakota. During a 10-year period, arrests for drug violations in North Dakota increased 122 percent from 682 arrests in 1989 to 1,517 arrests in 1998; however, drug arrests decreased slightly to 1,456 in 1999. Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data indicate an overall increase of 95 percent in drug arrests from 745 in 1990 to 1,456 in 1999. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, slightly more than 60 percent of all individuals sentenced were sentenced for methamphetamine-related offenses in North Dakota during the 4-year period 1997 through 2000.


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