ARCHIVED Skip nagivation.To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page     To Publications Page     To Home Page
To Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007


Cannabis is cultivated extensively in the Appalachia HIDTA region, most frequently at outdoor grow sites; law enforcement officials report that the number of indoor grow sites has increased in West Virginia and Kentucky in the past year. Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia have repeatedly ranked among the top 10 states in the nation in marijuana production; Kentucky and Tennessee frequently rank in the top five. In 2006 approximately 1.2 million cannabis plants were eradicated by federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia; the majority of grow sites were located in HIDTA counties in Kentucky and Tennessee. (See Table 1.) Moreover, the THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) quantifications of marijuana samples submitted to the University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project by law enforcement officials indicate that marijuana produced in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia had an average THC content of 4.25 percent, 4.57 percent, and 8.87 percent, respectively, in 2006.

Table 1. Number of Outdoor and Indoor Cannabis Plants Eradicated in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, 2004-2006

  2004 2005 2006
Kentucky 476,803 510,502 527,820
Tennessee 416,012 440,362 662,024
West Virginia* 54,728 57,600 64,974
Total 947,543 1,008,464 1,254,818

Source: Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
*County-level data represent January through November 2006 and include reporting from the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Outdoor cannabis cultivation is common throughout the Appalachia HIDTA region; most outdoor grow sites are operated by Caucasian DTOs and independent growers. According to the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP), the number of outdoor plants eradicated from grow operations in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia increased from 1,004,329 in 2005 to 1,252,524 in 2006. Cannabis cultivators deliberately locate outdoor grow sites in remote areas of public and private lands to reduce the chance of discovery by passersby or law enforcement and, more commonly, to protect their crops from theft. Cannabis is cultivated in Kentucky on broad areas of privately owned land, in the Daniel Boone National Forest, and on the Cumberland Plateau. The Appalachia HIDTA region's outdoor cannabis growing season lasts from late March through early October; cannabis typically is planted in late March to early April, tended through June to mid-August, and harvested from August through early October. However, in 2006 law enforcement officials in Tennessee reported that cultivators were changing their cultivation process from a single planting to two crop plantings per year; cultivators shortened the growing cycles in order to increase their crop yields. They achieve two growing cycles by planting specific cannabis strains that mature faster or by planting seedlings earlier in the spring. Cannabis cultivators are also harvesting as many plants as practical, including marginally mature plants, prior to the height of eradication season--typically late May through September or October--to lower the risk of a complete crop seizure.

To Top      To Contents

Cannabis cultivators frequently use camouflage, countersurveillance techniques, and booby traps to protect their outdoor grow sites. Law enforcement officials in Kentucky report that cannabis cultivators commonly camouflage marijuana crops by planting cannabis under tree canopies to conceal the crop from aerial surveillance or by commingling cannabis with legitimate crops. These sites are often protected by armed guards who conduct countersurveillance. Moreover, the use of booby traps significantly increased in 2006 in smaller, usually unattended, outdoor cannabis plots in Kentucky. In fact, some cannabis cultivators used punji sticks, which may be camouflaged by leaves and brush or incorporated into pits and explosive devices, to reduce the risk of crop theft. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Punji stick boards seized from cannabis cultivation operations in Kentucky, 2006.

Photograph of punji sticks, which are boards with protruding nails.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service

Indoor cannabis cultivation in the Appalachia HIDTA region is limited; law enforcement officials report that indoor cannabis cultivation may be increasing in West Virginia and Kentucky. According to DCE/SP data, the number of indoor plants eradicated from grow operations in the region decreased from 4,135 in 2005 to 2,294 in 2006. In West Virginia, however, the number of indoor grow operations seized increased from 34 in 2005 to 60 in 2006, and the number of indoor plants eradicated rose from 843 to 1,165 during that same period. Most of the plants (1,151 of 1,165) eradicated in 2006 were eradicated from 14 sites in two HIDTA counties--Kanawha and Gilmer Counties in West Virginia. Law enforcement officials attribute the increase in indoor cannabis cultivation in West Virginia to greater outdoor eradication efforts, which have caused some cultivators to move their grow operations indoors.

Powder methamphetamine production is an ongoing concern in the Appalachia HIDTA region, despite the fact that powder methamphetamine production appears to be decreasing; the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the region decreased from 544 in 2004 to 176 in 2006. (See Table 2.) Less than 2 ounces of methamphetamine per production cycle can be produced in most of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in the region. The iodine/red phosphorus production method or the anhydrous ammonia method, also known as the Birch reduction or "Nazi" production method, was used in most of the laboratories. According to law enforcement officials, decreased local methamphetamine production is largely the result of state restrictions on over-the-counter products containing pseudoephedrine, which have made local production more difficult, combined with an influx of Mexican ice methamphetamine to the area, which has made local powder methamphetamine production less necessary.

Table 2. Number of Methamphetamine Laboratories Seized in the Appalachia HIDTA Region, 2004-2006

State 2004 HIDTA Counties 2005 HIDTA Counties 2006 HIDTA Counties
Kentucky 115 85 36
Tennessee 355 194 86
West Virginia 74 77 54
Total 544 356 176

Source: National Seizure System, data run on 4/06/2007.

Kentucky Officials Launch MethCheck

In November 2005 Kentucky officials launched a pilot program called MethCheck, in which an electronic database is used--in lieu of written logs--to monitor pseudoephedrine (PSE) product sales in an attempt to curtail local methamphetamine production. MethCheck was modeled after the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system and was initiated following the enactment of the 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA). The MethCheck database provides law enforcement officials with real-time access to pseudoephedrine sales and purchaser information that identify individuals who exceed PSE legal purchasing limits and engage in other suspicious buying patterns. This technology enables law enforcement officers to identify, target, and arrest buyers who travel to different stores and make repetitive PSE purchases. Since MethCheck's inception, law enforcement officers have charged 28 individuals with unlawful possession of methamphetamine precursors and the manufacturing of methamphetamine and have charged 4 individuals with multiple drug offenses, including paraphernalia and possession of controlled substances other than methamphetamine-related substances. Moreover, MethCheck data has helped to identify 17 active methamphetamine laboratories that were located in Clay, Laurel, Jackson, and Rockcastle Counties.

Powder cocaine is converted to crack cocaine in the region, primarily by African American DTOs and members of street gangs. Most conversion sites are located at or near distribution sites; the drug is distributed on an as-needed basis, typically in ounce quantities.

To Top      To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page

To Publications Page     To Home Page

End of page.