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Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007

Strategic Drug Threat Developments

  • The Atlanta HIDTA region is the principal drug distribution center for most southeastern drug markets; it is also emerging as a key distribution center for eastern and midwestern markets. As such, Atlanta has become the primary destination in the eastern United States for illicit drugs transported by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) through the West Texas HIDTA region.
  • Mexican DTOs dominate drug trafficking in the Atlanta HIDTA region. They are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana that they obtain from other Mexican traffickers operating in California and areas near the Southwest Border.
  • Local indoor cannabis cultivation is increasing in the region as growers attempt to avoid outdoor eradication and attain higher profits through the production of indoor-grown, high-potency marijuana.
  • Cuban DTOs with ties to Florida-based Cuban DTOs are increasingly cultivating cannabis at indoor grow sites in the HIDTA region.

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HIDTA Overview

The Atlanta HIDTA, located in northwestern Georgia, expanded its area of responsibility in November 2006 to include Cobb and Gwinnett Counties along with DeKalb and Fulton Counties, the original HIDTA counties. These four counties have a combined population of nearly 2.7 million; the city of Atlanta accounts for over 400,000. With the addition of Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, the Atlanta HIDTA region now encompasses the four most populous counties in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and comprises over 60 percent of the population in the Atlanta MSA.1 Although the HIDTA region encompasses only four counties, this report discusses the additional Atlanta MSA counties surrounding the HIDTA region. Drug trafficking and abuse in these counties are inextricably linked to the HIDTA region.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail and midlevels.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

The Atlanta HIDTA region is a major drug distribution center for Mexican DTOs. These DTOs distribute powder cocaine and marijuana from Atlanta to cities throughout the eastern United States, including New York, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Trenton, New Jersey; they also distribute ice methamphetamine to southeastern markets. Additionally, Mexican DTOs are increasingly transporting powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana from and through Atlanta to Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh, North Carolina for further distribution to eastern drug markets. Law enforcement officials report that these cities are emerging as secondary distribution centers for the Atlanta area. Mexican DTOs also use Atlanta as a distribution center for cities in the Midwest, including Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; and St. Louis and Jefferson City, Missouri. They use the Atlanta area as a distribution center because of its central location in the Southeast as well as its well-established transportation infrastructure. Interstates 20, 75, and 85; public and private airports; and rail and bus services provide traffickers with ready access from the Southwest Border area to Atlanta and to cities throughout the eastern United States and the Midwest. In addition, the large population of the Atlanta MSA provides an extensive customer base and a degree of anonymity for Mexican drug traffickers because of the increasing Hispanic (primarily Mexican) population. Law enforcement reporting reveals that as the Mexican immigrant community has grown in the Atlanta area, so too has the presence of Mexican drug traffickers.

End Note

1. The Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) includes the following 28 counties: Barrow, Bartow, Butts, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Haralson, Heard, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Newton, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Rockdale, Spalding, and Walton.

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