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Drug Threat Overview

Mexican methamphetamine trafficking is the predominant drug threat to the CBAG region. Methamphetamine is one of the most abused drugs in the region, second only to marijuana. Methamphetamine abusers in the region are engaging in a significant number of drug-related crimes including identity theft, assaults, burglaries, and domestic violence incidents. Prices for ice methamphetamine2 have increased significantly in the region, largely as a result of the decreased availability of the drug. For instance, a pound of ice methamphetamine sold for between $6,000 and $10,000 in San Diego County in 2006; the price increased to between $9,000 and $12,500 per pound in 2007. Reduced availability is most likely the result of decreased methamphetamine production in Mexico and the United States--the decrease in production appears to be occasioned by the declining availability of pseudoephedrine, the primary precursor chemical used in methamphetamine production. National Seizure System (NSS) data support the contention of declining methamphetamine production in Mexico and the United States; NSS data reveal that methamphetamine seizures in San Diego and Imperial Counties decreased by 45 percent from 2006 to 2007. (See Table 1.) In response to declining supplies of illicit pseudoephedrine, Mexican DTOs have modified their production procedures in an attempt to sustain their current methamphetamine levels.

Table 1. Drug Seizures in San Diego and Imperial Counties, in Kilograms, 2005-2007

Drug 2005 2006 2007
Cocaine 3,894.75 4,376.92 4,286.58
Heroin 41.11 125.93 126.00
Marijuana 189,354.03 153,207.92 159,160.38
Methamphetamine 1,020.97 1,594.39 871.16

Source: National Seizure System, as of March 20, 2008.

Mexican commercial-grade marijuana, domestically grown marijuana, and BC Bud (high-potency Canadian marijuana) are readily available throughout the CBAG region. Mexican DTOs dominate and control the Mexican marijuana market in the region and are beginning to use cultivation methods that yield plants ready for harvest in 90 days; these cultivation methods will enable the DTOs to produce at least three crops per year at a grow site. Additionally, the availability of high-potency marijuana, produced at an increasing number of indoor cannabis grow sites in the region as well as at domestic locations outside the region, is increasing.

Cocaine, heroin, diverted pharmaceuticals, and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) also are available throughout the CBAG region. Cocaine is readily available in the region; the area did not experience cocaine shortages and purity reductions reported throughout the year in other areas of the United States. Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin are prevalent in the area; the CBAG region is a major transportation corridor used by Mexican DTOs to smuggle Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin from the U.S.-Mexico border in California to the Los Angeles metropolitan area--a national-level distribution center for Mexican heroin. Diverted pharmaceutical drugs are commonplace throughout the CBAG region because of the area's proximity to Mexico and the relative ease with which abusers and dealers can purchase these drugs from Mexican pharmacies. ODDs, such as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), ketamine, and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) are available in the CBAG region, but they pose lesser threats than do other drugs of abuse.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs, primarily the Arellano Félix Organization (AFO) and the Sinaloa Cartel,3 are the principal organizational threats to the CBAG region--they are the dominant transporters and distributors of illicit drugs. They exert more influence over drug trafficking in the CBAG region than does any other trafficking group, largely the result of their extensive cross-border trafficking networks and their expansive transportation and distribution operations. Mexican DTOs manage sophisticated smuggling, transportation, and distribution networks that compartmentalize duties; employ advanced security and communication techniques; gather intelligence; and use violence and intimidation to deter law enforcement authorities, control organization members, and secure smuggling territories. Mexican DTOs appear to have moved away from traditional hierarchical structures in favor of decentralized networks of interdependent, task-oriented cells. The diversity of the individual cells provides operational flexibility to Mexican DTOs and reportedly reduces the risk of apprehension for DTO leaders.

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 level and midlevel.

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 AFO's drug trafficking capabilities have been diminished over the past few years because of the death or capture of several of the organization's leaders--the organization's current leadership structure has yet to be ascertained by Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials. The organization also lost many of its ties to corrupt individuals in the Tijuana Municipal Police Department after the Mexican Government dismissed the entire force and placed it under investigation in June 2007. Although the organization's structure has been weakened, it reportedly maintains ties with DTOs in Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela to aid the organization in its drug trafficking activities.

Mexican DTOs in the CBAG region generally use cell phones, particularly prepaid phones, to conduct drug transactions. Additionally, Mexican DTOs are increasingly using cell phones with push-to-talk capability because data are stored for only a short time in the phones before being purged from the system.

End Notes

2. For the purposes of this report, ice methamphetamine refers to methamphetamine that has been crystallized from powder methamphetamine.
3. The Sinaloa Cartel is led by the Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera DTO.

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