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NDIC seal linked to Home page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Washington Drug Threat Assessment
February 2003



 Map of Washington showing major highways.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

The state of Washington ranks fifteenth in population with nearly 5.9 million residents. Approximately one-half of the state's population is concentrated in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, all of which are adjacent to Puget Sound. In 2000 Washington had a higher percentage of Caucasian (81.8%), Asian (5.5%), and American Indian (1.6%) residents than the national percentages and a lower percentage of African American (3.2%) and Hispanic (7.5%) residents.

Fast Facts
Population (2000) 5,894,121 
U.S. population ranking 15th
Median household income (2000) $42,024
Unemployment rate (2001) 6.9%
Land area 66,511 square miles
Shoreline  3,026 miles
Capital Olympia 
Other principal cities Bellevue, Bellingham, Everett, Federal Way, Kennewick, Kent, Lakewood, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Yakima 
Number of counties 39 
Principal industries Advanced technology, aerospace, agriculture, biotechnology, food processing, forestry, international trade, recycling, tourism 

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Washington's topography and location render it susceptible to drug smuggling and production. The Washington section of the U.S.-Canada border is approximately 430 miles in length, a significant portion of which is vast, dense forest. Several waterways also are present on the border. The border has 13 official ports of entry (POEs), but the rest of the border is largely unpatrolled. Drug smugglers exploit the national parks and forests, as well as other forestlands and waterways adjacent to the border, to smuggle drugs into Washington. In fiscal year (FY) 2000 U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents at the Blaine and Spokane sectors seized almost 5,000 pounds of marijuana, accounting for nearly 70 percent of all marijuana seized at the U.S.-Canada border during that year. Drug producers also use the vast national parks and forests, primarily those in western Washington, to cultivate cannabis and operate methamphetamine laboratories.

Washington is a distribution center for both licit and illicit commodities in the Northwest due largely to its geographic location--bordered by Canada and the Pacific Ocean--and its multifaceted transportation infrastructure. Private vehicles, boats, and commercial trucks are frequently used to smuggle drugs into Washington and transport drugs into and through the state. Couriers on commercial and private aircraft, commercial buses, and passenger rail cars also are used by traffickers, but to a lesser extent.

Drug transporters primarily use Interstates 5, 90, and 82 as well as U.S. Highways 2, 12, 97, 101, and 395 to transport drugs into and through Washington. I-5, the principal north-south highway on the West Coast, extends from the U.S.-Canada border near Blaine to the U.S.-Mexico border near San Ysidro, California. I-90, the primary east-west highway in Washington, connects Seattle with Spokane and extends to Chicago. I-82, which extends from central Washington through Yakima and the Tri-City area (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland), connects I-90 to I-84, a major interstate in northern Oregon. US 2, also known as the Hi-Line, connects I-5 in Everett with I-90 in Spokane and extends to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. US 12 extends from Aberdeen, near the Pacific Coast, through southern Washington to Madison, Wisconsin. US 97 extends from the Oroville POE, through Yakima and Oregon, to northern California where it connects to I-5. US 101 is the principal highway on the Olympic Peninsula. US 395 extends from the Laurier POE, through Spokane and the Tri-City area, to Southern California. Law enforcement officials in Washington commonly seize drugs on these highways, often as part of Operation Pipeline initiatives.


Operation Pipeline

Operation Pipeline is a national highway interdiction program supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). Drug seizures from private vehicles are reported to Operation Pipeline by state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide operating along highways and interstates most frequently used to transport illegal drugs and drug proceeds.

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Washington has seven international airports: Bellingham International, Grant County International in Moses Lake, William R. Fairchild International in Port Angeles, Jefferson County International in Port Townsend, Seattle-Tacoma International (SeaTac) and Boeing Field/King County International in Seattle, and Spokane International. SeaTac is the primary air transportation hub for domestic and international passengers and cargo in the state. Forty-four domestic and 13 foreign commercial air passenger and cargo carriers serve the airport. In addition, Washington has over 130 public use airports, 100 heliports, and numerous private airports, seaplane bases, and landing strips. Illicit drugs occasionally are seized from commercial air passengers and air cargo. Illicit drugs also have been seized from noncommercial aircraft, particularly those landing at remote airstrips along the Washington portion of the U.S.-Canada border.

Operation Jetway

Operation Jetway is an EPIC-supported domestic interdiction program. Drug seizures are reported to Operation Jetway by state and local law enforcement agencies across the nation at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, U.S. Post Offices, and airport hotels/motels.

Commercial shipping is prevalent in the Puget Sound area, the third busiest commercial shipping region in the nation. Only the Long Beach/Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey areas have more maritime traffic. Seven ports are situated in the Puget Sound area, including the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. More than 2.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container traffic were handled by ports in the region in 1999. The Port of Seattle handled nearly 1.5 million TEUs of container traffic that year, ranking fifth in the United States, while the Port of Tacoma ranked eighth in the nation in 1999 with nearly 1.3 million TEUs of container traffic. This volume of maritime traffic, in addition to pleasure craft and fishing boats, has rendered the Puget Sound area vulnerable to the transportation of drugs into and through the region.

Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of illicit drugs into Washington. These groups transport wholesale amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana into the state from Mexico, California, and Oregon. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers as well as Asian criminal groups--primarily Vietnamese--and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs)--particularly Hells Angels--smuggle significant quantities of Canada-produced marijuana into Washington.

Public health data reporting indicates that drug-related treatment admissions in Washington have increased. According to the Washington Division on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, drug-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Washington for abuse of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin increased overall from state fiscal year (SFY) 1997 through SFY2001, with marijuana-related admissions increasing each year during this period. The overall number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased substantially (153%) during this period from 2,334 in SFY1997 to 5,907 in SFY2001. Large increases also were reported for marijuana, which has risen 75.1% in the last 5 years.

The number of drug-related deaths in Washington likewise has increased. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the number of drug abuse-related deaths increased from 461 in 1995 to 551 in 2001.

The percentage of Washington residents who reported having abused an illicit drug was higher than the percentage nationwide in 2001, the most recent year for which data are available. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 7.51 percent of Washington residents surveyed reported having abused an illicit drug in the month prior to the survey compared with 6.28 percent nationwide.

Drug-related crimes have increased in Washington. The number of arrests in the state for the manufacture, possession, or sale of illicit drugs increased each year from 13,234 in 1994 to 28,043 in 2001, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The Washington State Department of Corrections reports that 21.3 percent of the approximately 15,000 inmates incarcerated in state correctional institutions in 2002 had drug-related crimes as their primary criminal offense.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), in FY2001 the percentage of federal sentences in Washington that were drug-related increased but remained lower than the national percentage. Drug-related sentences represented 33.2 percent of all federal sentences in the state in FY2001 compared with 41.2 percent nationally. The percentage of federal sentences that were drug-related in Washington increased from 28.1 percent in FY1997 to 33.2 percent in FY2001.

The financial impact on Washington from substance abuse-related costs has been significant. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Washington spent nearly $1.4 billion--$248 per resident--on substance abuse-related costs in state programs in 1998, the most recent year for which these data are available. These costs represented 10.0 percent of the state's total expenditures that year, the twenty-third highest percentage in the nation but below the national average of 12.6 percent.


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