ARCHIVED To Contents To Previous Page To Next Page To Publications Page To Home Page
National Drug Intelligence Center
Marijuana and Methamphetamine Trafficking on Federal Lands Threat Assessment
Much of the outdoor cannabis cultivation in the United States occurs in remote areas on federal lands. A considerable number of cannabis plants are eradicated each year on NFS lands and, to a lesser extent, DOI lands. The number of cannabis plants eradicated on NFS lands increased from 2002 (597,797) to 2003 (729,481) and far surpassed eradication on DOI lands in both 2002 (168,645) and 2003 (263,356).
Law enforcement reporting indicates that cannabis cultivation sites have been discovered on NFS and DOI lands throughout the United States. However, most cannabis cultivation on federal lands appears to be occurring in California and Kentucky, where a large number of plants have been eradicated in recent years. Marijuana producers cultivate cannabis on federal lands in plots that vary in size from a few plants, cultivated by independent marijuana producers for personal use, to tens of thousands of plants cultivated by organized criminal groups for wholesale-level distribution.
Officials from the California Department of Justice report that under the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program, law enforcement officers seized a record 466,054 cannabis plants in 182 raids in 32 counties during the fiscal year (FY) 2003 eradication season (July through October). Seventy-five percent of the plants seized were growing on public lands, and 84 percent were, according to law enforcement sources, from grows operated specifically by Mexican DTOs. Twelve of the grows contained more than 10,000 plants each. Officials also seized 50 weapons and arrested 35 individuals during the raids. Agencies involved in the eradication operations included California Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), BLM, Forest Service, and California National Guard, as well as numerous county sheriff's departments and local police departments throughout the state. The CAMP eradication figures illustrate the trend toward Mexican DTOs increasingly growing cannabis in California to avoid smuggling marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border. According to program statistics, the percentage of plants seized from grows operated by Mexican DTOs increased from 69 percent in FY2001 to 74 percent in FY2002 to 84 percent in FY2003. In addition, officials report a significant increase in the number of plants cultivated in large cannabis grows, which typically are operated by Mexican DTOs. According to CAMP authorities, in the late 1990s large grows typically contained 3,000 to 5,000 plants; in 2003 large grows typically contained 5,000 to 10,000 plants, with several having 30,000 to 40,000 plants. Correspondingly, marijuana seizures within 150 miles of the California portion of the U.S.-Mexico border have decreased during this time.
NFS Lands. California is a significant domestic marijuana source area, and producers cultivate substantial cannabis crops on federal lands within the state, particularly on NFS lands. According to Forest Service reporting, 8 of the 10 leading national forests for cannabis eradication both in 2002 and 2003 were in California, stretching from the Cleveland National Forest near San Diego to the Six Rivers National Forest near the Oregon border, and they accounted for 420,866 of the 597,797 cannabis plants eradicated from NFS lands in 2002 (70%) and 540,567 of 729,481 cannabis plants eradicated in 2003 (74%). (See Figure 2.) Once the site of the largest cannabis eradication on NFS lands, California's Cleveland National Forest, located near San Diego, ranked second to Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest. Nonetheless, the number of cannabis plants eradicated annually from the Cleveland National Forest alone exceeds that eradicated from lands in most individual states.
Law enforcement and Forest Service reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs control a significant portion of cannabis cultivation on federal lands in California and finance large cultivation sites (typically 10,000 to 30,000 plants). Mexican DTOs often employ and arm undocumented aliens from Mexico to live in camps at grow sites and tend the plots. Caucasian independent producers also produce marijuana on federal lands in California--particularly in Northern California--and typically are longtime residents who run family-based operations or deal with brokers as part of a confederation of local cannabis cultivators.
Kentucky also is a significant domestic marijuana source area, and much of the cannabis cultivation in Kentucky occurs on federal lands, as it does in California. The Daniel Boone National Forest, located in Eastern Kentucky, led all National Forests for cannabis plants eradicated, accounting for 29 percent (213,229 of 729,481) of cannabis plants eradicated on NFS lands nationwide in 2003.
Many marijuana producers in Kentucky are residents of the area, mostly Caucasians, who run family-based, vertical operations (controlling cultivation through distribution) or who deal with a broker as part of a loose confederation of marijuana producers. According to the Forest Service, these groups and individuals typically maintain smaller plots of cannabis than do Mexican DTOs and usually travel long distances from their homes to sites scattered throughout remote areas of federal lands in order to tend their plots.
DOI Lands. Data regarding cannabis eradication on DOI lands is not available on a state-by-state or regional level. However, DOI eradication data for 2003 show that of the 263,356 cannabis plants eradicated on DOI lands, most were eradicated on lands managed by BLM (116,661 plants), followed by BIA (99,778 plants), NPS (46,171 plants), and FWS (527 plants).
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups transport marijuana from Mexico to the United States through federal lands in private vehicles, often in quantities greater than 1,000 pounds. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups also employ groups of couriers to travel on foot from Mexico to the United States, carrying marijuana-filled backpacks (50-75 lb) or duffel bags (40-100 lb) through remote areas of federal lands. Once across the border, couriers typically leave the bags in designated areas for subsequent retrieval by another member of the organization already in the United States. USDA Forest Service and DOI reporting indicate that law enforcement personnel patrolling federal lands often discover stash sites containing large quantities of marijuana that likely have been left for subsequent pick up.
Canada-based criminal groups including outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) such as Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC), Asian criminal groups, and independent smugglers often transport marijuana from Canada to the United States through federal lands. Marijuana smuggled from Canada to the United States through federal lands usually is transported by snowmobiles, watercraft, and backpackers traveling on foot. Amounts smuggled range from personal use quantities to 40- to 100-pound quantities concealed in duffel bags.
Seizure data indicate that a significant amount of marijuana is seized each year on NFS and DOI lands, particularly while being transported along the U.S.-Mexico border and, to a much lesser extent, the U.S.-Canada border.
NFS Lands. Seizures of marijuana on NFS lands increased from 59,733 pounds in 2002 to 71,766 pounds in 2003. Of the 71,766 pounds seized in 2003, 55,144 pounds (77%) were seized along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Forest Service reporting indicates that of the 71,766 pounds of marijuana seized on NFS lands in 2003, most (55,144 lb) was seized on NFS lands in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, the only national forest on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Forest Service reports that most of the marijuana seized in the Coronado National Forest had been smuggled from Mexico by Mexican DTOs.
DOI Lands. Seizure data indicate that marijuana seizures on federal lands most often occur on lands managed by DOI. The amount of marijuana seized on DOI lands has fluctuated in recent years from 259,314 pounds in 2001, to 447,545 pounds in 2002, to 263,356 pounds in 2003. Of the 263,356 pounds of marijuana seized in 2003 on DOI lands, the largest amount (127,149 lb) was seized on lands managed by FWS, followed by NPS (62,926 lb), BLM (11,697 lb), and BIA (8,449 lb).
Cannabis cultivation by Mexican DTOs on federal lands likely will increase despite the considerable efforts of the Forest Service and DOI. The Forest Service reports that DTOs have increased the size and scope of their cannabis cultivation operations on NFS lands to include a greater number of large cannabis grow plots and irrigation systems and have increased security measures. For example, California Department of Justice officials report that under the state's CAMP program, law enforcement officers seized a record 466,054 cannabis plants in 182 raids in 32 counties during FY2003 eradication season (July through October). Seventy-five percent of the plants seized were growing on public lands, and 84 percent, according to law enforcement sources, came from grow sites operated by Mexican DTOs. Twelve grows contained more than 10,000 plants each. Furthermore, CAMP reporting indicates that the percentage of plants seized from grows operated by Mexican DTOs increased from 69 percent in FY2001, to 74 percent in FY2002, to 84 percent in FY2003. In addition, officials report a significant increase in the number of plants cultivated in large cannabis grows, which typically are operated by Mexican DTOs.
End of page.