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Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007


Illicit drug production in the Atlanta HIDTA region entails primarily crack cocaine conversion, cannabis cultivation, and limited powder methamphetamine production. Powder cocaine is converted to crack in the region primarily by African American DTOs and criminal groups. Most crack is converted at or near distribution sites on an as-needed basis, typically in ounce quantities.

Cannabis cultivation and marijuana production are increasing in the Atlanta area. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that the number of outdoor cannabis cultivation sites is rising as a result of the normally ideal growing conditions in the area. However, because of DEA's eradication efforts and a recent drought, some growers have switched to more sophisticated indoor hydroponic cannabis cultivation. These factors have contributed to an increase in indoor cultivation reported by law enforcement, evidenced by a 215 percent increase in indoor plant eradication from 2002 through 2006 in Georgia. (See Table 2.) Additionally, law enforcement officials seized more than 1,500 cannabis plants from over 50 indoor grow sites between February and March 2007; most of these grow sites were located at residences in the Atlanta area. The cannabis plants, marijuana, and other contraband seized at the 50 sites were valued at over $10 million. These grow sites were strikingly similar in terms of equipment and procedures. For example, the basements in most of the residences incorporated special lighting, water-recycling systems, modified ventilation systems, and advanced hydroponic systems. Most of the grow houses were operated by Cuban DTOs with ties to Florida-based Cuban DTOs. Moreover, law enforcement officials have linked at least one grow site in Atlanta to a grow site operating in North Carolina.

Table 2. Number of Cannabis Plants Eradicated in Georgia
at Indoor and Outdoor Grow Sites, 2002-2006

  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Indoor Plants 511 223 616 642 1,610
Outdoor Plants 75,259 46,762 18,122 27,067 65,178
Total Plants 75,770a 46,985 18,738 27,709 66,788

Source: Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
a. The Atlanta HIDTA reports that fluctuations in the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year is sometimes the result of available assets. Nonetheless, the total number of cannabis plants eradicated in Georgia in 2002 was unusually high.

The rise in the local cultivation of cannabis, particularly hydroponically grown cannabis, is driven by the growing popularity of--and increasing demand for--higher-potency marijuana in the region. According to Atlanta HIDTA officials, this growing demand may be linked partially to the hip-hop music industry in the area, which often glamorizes the use of this drug in song lyrics and lifestyles.

Powder methamphetamine production within the area is limited; most methamphetamine production in Georgia takes place outside the HIDTA region. (See Table 3.) The number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the HIDTA region decreased from 13 in 2005 to 5 in 2006. Less than 2 ounces of methamphetamine per production cycle can be produced in most methamphetamine laboratories in the area; however, one superlab was seized in Barrow County in 2006.3 According to law enforcement officials, decreased local powder methamphetamine production has resulted from an influx of Mexican ice methamphetamine into the area as well as state restrictions on the purchase of pseudoephedrine and other precursor chemicals used in methamphetamine production.

Table 3. Number of Methamphetamine Laboratories Seized in Georgia

Area 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Atlanta HIDTA Region
(Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett Counties)
4 3 5 6 13 5
Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area
(24 of the 28 counties: Barrow, Bartow, Butts, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Dawson, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Haralson, Heard, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Newton, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Rockdale, Spalding, and Walton)
8 30 35 29 39 24
Georgia (remaining 31 counties) 33 57 138 178 144 74
Total for All Counties 45 90 178 213 196 103

Source: National Seizure System, data run on 3/19/2007.

End Note

3. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines a superlab as a clandestine laboratory in which at least 10 pounds of methamphetamine per production cycle can be produced.

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