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National Drug Threat Assessment 2003
January 2003


Marijuana is a leading drug threat to the country. It is the most readily available and widely used illicit drug in the United States, and its prevalence has contributed to both an acceptance of marijuana use among some adults and adolescents and a perception that the drug is not harmful. Reporting from law enforcement and public health agencies, as well as federal investigation, arrest, and seizure data, indicates marijuana availability changed little over the past year.

Some national substance abuse indicators suggest that marijuana use may rise despite relatively stable levels of use since the late 1990s. The number of past year users increased significantly in 2001, and national-level prevalence studies show decreases in the perception of risk regarding marijuana use. Available data suggest that marijuana production is high both in the United States and in foreign source areas. Transport of marijuana from source areas to markets occurs via many methods but primarily overland in commercial and private vehicles. Distribution of marijuana appears to be stable, and a wide range of criminal groups, gangs, and independent dealers distribute the drug throughout the country. Primary market areas for marijuana include Central Arizona, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle.

NDTS data show that 20.4 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide identify marijuana as their principal drug threat. Regionally, more state and local law enforcement agencies in the New York/New Jersey (40.9%), Great Lakes (29.6%), New England (27.3%), Mid-Atlantic (21.0%), and Southwest regions (19.7%) identify marijuana as the greatest threat than do those in the Florida/Caribbean (10.9%), West Central (9.9%), Southeast (9.3%), and Pacific regions (7.8%).

Current medical and scientific evidence continues to demonstrate that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, and the current user population is more frequently exposed to higher potency marijuana than in previous years, which may increase the risk of dependence. Animal studies suggest that THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) causes physical dependence, and a withdrawal syndrome characterized by irritability, stomach pain, aggression, and anxiety has been associated with abstinence from long-term marijuana use in some people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who smoke marijuana regularly may develop long-term respiratory problems such as chronic coughing, bronchitis, and poor lung function. Short-term effects of marijuana use include memory and learning problems, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, distorted perception, and loss of coordination. A primary physical effect--increased heart rate--can be exacerbated when marijuana is used in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine, a considerable concern given that approximately three-quarters of the ED episodes involving marijuana in 2001 involved at least one other drug.

Marijuana use typically is not associated with violence. The potential for violence usually is associated with cannabis cultivation in that many grow sites are secured with potentially lethal booby traps and protected by way of firearms. Recent reports of the theft of marijuana through home invasion robberies suggest that cultivators and distributors themselves are at risk of violence. Law enforcement reporting also suggests greater frequency of violence related to marijuana distribution, including kidnappings, shootings, and homicides often over unpaid drug debts.

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Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in the United States. Reporting from law enforcement and public health agencies, as well as investigation, arrest, and seizure data, indicates marijuana availability changed little over the past year. Prices are relatively stable, although they do range considerably from market to market, and the average overall potency of marijuana is rising.

NDTS data show that 96.9 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide describe the availability of marijuana as high or medium--just 1.8 percent describe it as low. From region to region, the proportions of agencies reporting high or medium availability were very similar and ranged only from 98.9 percent in the Mid-Atlantic region to 91.6 percent in the Florida/Caribbean.

Every DEA Field Division and HIDTA throughout the country reports that marijuana is available in its area. All DEA Field Divisions and HIDTAs report the availability both of marijuana produced in Mexico and of marijuana produced domestically. More than three-quarters (16 of 21) of DEA Field Divisions and three-quarters (24 of 32) of HIDTAs specifically identify Mexico or the Southwest Border area as the primary source of the marijuana available in their areas. Reporting from three DEA Field Divisions (San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle) and six HIDTAs (Appalachia, Central California, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Northern California, and Oregon) suggests that much of the marijuana available in their areas is grown locally. Other types of marijuana available according to DEA and HIDTA reporting include Canadian, identified in every region of the country; Jamaican, identified in the Florida/Caribbean, Great Lakes, New England, and New York/New Jersey regions; and Colombian, identified in the Florida/Caribbean, New England, and New York/New Jersey regions.

Pulse Check reporting confirms the widespread, stable availability of marijuana throughout the country: 38 of 39 sources reported wide availability of marijuana. According to Pulse Check, the most available type of marijuana was domestically produced commercial-grade, followed by Mexico-produced commercial-grade, then sinsemilla (see text box). Few changes in marijuana availability were noted. Only sources in Boston, Columbia (SC), Denver, and Honolulu reported increases, while a decline in availability was reported only for Chicago.

Commercial-grade marijuana usually includes the leaves, stems, and seeds of the cannabis plant and thus is of lower potency, which can range between approximately 1 and 6 percent. Sinsemilla comprises just the buds and flowering tops of unpollinated female plants, where THC is most concentrated. The potency of sinsemilla can reach levels of more than 30 percent THC but more often ranges between 10 and 15 percent.

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The proportion of OCDETF investigations involving marijuana, many of which likely are polydrug investigations, declined slightly from 40.7 percent in FY2000 to 39.3 percent in FY2001. The proportion of OCDETF indictments in which marijuana was charged increased slightly during the same period from 17.4 to 18.8 percent. The Southwest and Southeast regions accounted for the most marijuana-related investigations and indictments in both fiscal years.

The number of DEA arrests involving cannabis dropped from 8,109 in 2000 to 6,225 in 2001, accounting for 20.9 and 18.9 percent, respectively, of all DEA arrests in those years. The number of federal sentences involving marijuana increased from 7,301 in FY2000 to 7,991 in FY2001, according to the USSC, accounting for 31.2 and 32.8 percent, respectively, of federal sentences involving all drug types. Of federal sentences for marijuana in 2001, 97.1 percent were for drug trafficking; only 2.3 percent were for simple possession.

According to FDSS data, the amount of marijuana seized declined between 2000 and 2001 from 1,236 metric tons to 1,215 metric tons. Texas, Arizona, California and, to a much lesser extent, New Mexico accounted for just over 90 percent (1,104 of 1,215 mt) of the marijuana seized in 2001--Texas alone accounted for more than half.

Prices for marijuana have been relatively stable but are wide ranging because of variables such as potency, quantities purchased, purchase frequencies, buyer-seller relationships, and transportation costs. According to DEA, in 2001 a pound of marijuana sold from as low as $70 (commercial-grade) to as high as $10,000 (sinsemilla); however, a typical national price range is $300 to $1,200 per pound for commercial-grade marijuana and $600 to $4,000 per pound for sinsemilla. Retail price ranges are approximately $5 to $50 per gram for commercial-grade and $40 to $100 per gram for sinsemilla.

The overall potency of marijuana rose between 2000 and 2001, according to data from the Potency Monitoring Project.16 Average potency increased for all marijuana types (4.88% to 5.32%) and specifically for commercial-grade marijuana (4.69% to 5.03%) between 2000 and 2001, but decreased for sinsemilla (12.71% to 9.55%) during the same period. The average concentration of THC in submitted samples of sinsemilla has fluctuated over the last decade, ranging from a low of 5.77 percent in 1993 to a high of 13.38 percent in 1999. Nonetheless reporting from the Potency Monitoring Project indicates an increase in the prevalence of higher potency marijuana in samples submitted for testing. Marijuana samples testing at or greater than 9 percent THC accounted for 2.97 percent of samples submitted in 1992, 9.13 percent of samples submitted in 1997, and 15.29 percent of samples submitted in 2001.

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Use of marijuana was relatively stable and exhibited slight declines from 1998 to 2000. Some national substance abuse indicators for 2001, however, suggest that marijuana use may rise.

The prevalence of marijuana use is reflected in 2001 data from the NHSDA, which show that nearly 21.1 million of an estimated 28.4 million past year illicit drug users aged 12 and older reported past year use of marijuana. These figures are up significantly from 2000 when 18.6 million of an estimated 24.5 million past year illicit drug users reported past year marijuana use. The NHSDA further indicates that 11.9 percent of past year marijuana users used on 300 or more days in 2001, translating to 2.5 million persons using marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis in that year. Moreover, 16.5 percent of past year users--3.5 million people--were classified as dependent on or abusers of marijuana.

Data from national-level prevalence studies show rising use of marijuana among adults. According to NHSDA data, the rates of past year use increased significantly between 2000 and 2001 for persons aged 18-25 (23.7% to 26.7%) and 26-34 (10.3% to 11.9%). Past year marijuana use among those aged 35 and older also rose, although not significantly, from 3.8 to 4.1 percent.

MTF data, although relatively stable since the late 1990s, do show a general upward trend in marijuana use among adults. In 2001, 35.6 percent of college students (19-22) and 29.2 percent of young adults (19-28) reported past year marijuana use, while the rates were 34.0 and 27.9 percent, respectively, in 2000. The changes from 2000 to 2001 are not statistically significant, however.

The most recent data regarding past year adolescent use of marijuana are mixed. While NHSDA, a home-based survey, indicates that adolescent marijuana use has increased significantly since 2000, the school-based surveys MTF and PRIDE show stable to sharply decreasing use. The latest data available from NHSDA show that among those aged 12-17 the rate of past year marijuana use increased significantly from 13.4 percent in 2000 to 15.2 percent in 2001.

MTF data, on the other hand, indicate relatively stable to declining use of marijuana through 2002 among students. Between 2001 and 2002, past year marijuana use fell for eighth (15.4% to 14.6%), tenth (32.7% to 30.3%), and twelfth graders (37.0% to 36.2%). According to MTF, there has been a modest decline in past year marijuana use since the latter 1990s, but the change in past year use for tenth graders from 2001 to 2002 is the only statistically significant decrease in recent years.

The latest data from PRIDE, however, show significant decreases in marijuana use between the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years for sixth through twelfth graders, particularly among older students. Past year use decreased for junior high students (9.3% to 8.3%) and dramatically so for senior high students (32.3% to 29.4%) and twelfth graders (39.0% to 35.7%). These are the lowest rates indicated by PRIDE since the 1993 1994 school year for junior high students and since the 19941995 school year for senior high students and twelfth graders.

A few changes in the attitudes toward, and perceptions regarding, marijuana use among adults and youth may presage a rise in use as suggested by some substance abuse indicators. NHSDA data show significant decreases between 2000 and 2001 in the perceived risk of smoking marijuana once or twice a week for those aged 12-17 (56.0% to 53.5%), 18-25 (41.9% to 37.8%), and 26 and older (58.9% to 56.0%).

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Marijuana and Youth

Marijuana is readily accessible to adolescents, contributing to its alleged role as a "gateway" to other illicit drug use. An initiate to drug use is more likely to start with a drug that is readily available and easily obtainable, and according to the 2001 NHSDA, 55.4 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 reported marijuana was fairly or very easy to obtain, up from 54.1 percent in 2000. Also, 2002 MTF data indicate that 46.6 percent of eighth graders, 75.9 percent of tenth graders, and 87.2 percent of twelfth graders report that marijuana is fairly or very easy to obtain.

Not every young person who uses marijuana goes on to use other drugs, but according to NIDA, long-term studies of high school students and their drug use patterns indicate that very few young people who use other drugs do so without first trying marijuana. Age statistics appear to corroborate this progression. NHSDA data show the mean age at first use of marijuana is 17.5, while the mean age at first use for other drugs is as follows: stimulants, 18.5; hallucinogens, 18.6; cocaine, 20.0; pain relievers, 20.8; and heroin, 22.3.

Furthermore, some young people initiate marijuana use at even lower ages. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System indicate, for example, that 10.2 percent of ninth- through twelfth-grade students in 2001 had tried marijuana before the age of 13. And the consequences of such early use are telling. More than half (57%) of 223,597 treatment admissions for marijuana/hashish in 1999 had first used the drug by the age of 14, and ED mentions for marijuana increased more than 150 percent among patients aged 12-17 between 1994 and 2001. Moreover, a 2002 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 62 percent of adults aged 26 and older who initiated marijuana use before the age of 15 reported using cocaine at least once in their lifetime compared with 0.6 percent who never used marijuana.

Among MTF respondents, the perceived harmfulness of smoking marijuana regularly decreased significantly for twelfth graders between 2001 and 2002 (57.4% to 53.0%) but was relatively stable for eighth (72.2% to 71.7%) and tenth graders (62.8% to 60.8%). PATS data also show a decline in the percentage of teens aged 12-17 reporting great risk in using marijuana regularly, from 60 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2001.

The consequences of marijuana use have been rising since the early 1990s, even as use rates were stable or declining. Contributing considerably to the increases are use of marijuana in combination with other drugs and treatment referrals from the criminal justice system. The growing availability and use of higher potency marijuana likely has affected the number of emergency department visits and treatment admissions as well.

DAWN data indicate that the estimated number of ED mentions for marijuana increased 14.6 percent between 2000 (96,426) and 2001 (110,512). The rate of marijuana ED mentions nationwide increased significantly as well from 39 to 44 per 100,000 population. DAWN data for 2001 further indicate that for the third year in succession "psychic effects" surpassed "dependence" as the motive for use in most ED episodes in which marijuana was mentioned. A significant increase between 2000 and 2001 was noted for "chronic effects" as a reason given for ED contact; however, the reason given in most ED episodes in which marijuana was mentioned in 2001--as in the 7 preceding years--was an "unexpected reaction." A contributing factor in these statistics is the use of marijuana in combination with other drugs. Only 24 percent of ED episodes involving marijuana involved marijuana alone.

The number of admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities for marijuana use increased steadily from 1994 (142,633) to 1998 (218,483) and continued to rise in 1999 (223,597). TEDS data indicate that the criminal justice system largely contributes to these numbers, accounting for more than half of marijuana treatment referrals in both 1998 (53.9%) and 1999 (57.1%). The number of marijuana treatment admissions specifically among those aged 12-17 also increased from 1994 (46,554) to 1998 (81,196) but then declined in 1999 (79,000). Criminal justice referrals accounted for more than half of adolescent marijuana admissions as well in both 1998 (50.4%) and 1999 (53.6%). According to TEDS, the number of adolescent marijuana admissions increased from 1992 to 1995 for all referral sources, but while referrals from other sources stabilized or declined after 1995, criminal justice referrals have continued to rise.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug not only among the general population but also among adult male arrestees, according to ADAM data. Data for 2001 indicate that 54.6 percent of all male arrestees at ADAM sites reported past year marijuana use, more than for any other drug. In 2000 past year marijuana use was reported by 52.9 percent of adult male arrestees.

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Cannabis is cultivated throughout the United States at outdoor and indoor sites. NDTS data show that 74.7 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide report outdoor cultivation in their areas and that 73.8 percent report indoor cultivation. Marijuana produced from cannabis grown in foreign source areas is smuggled into the country as well. Available data appear to indicate that marijuana production is high both in the United States and in foreign source areas. Except for Mexico, however, estimates regarding production levels are not conclusive, primarily because of limitations in eradication and seizure data, the unknown extent of indoor cultivation, and unsubstantiated or outdated crop estimates. This uncertainty does not allow for an accurate estimate of the amount of marijuana available in U.S. markets.

While eradication and seizure data are not a reliable indicator of cultivation levels, such data do provide a general idea as to the magnitude of marijuana production in the United States. DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program (DCE/SP), which maintains statistics for cannabis eradication efforts undertaken by federal, state, and local agencies under the auspices of DCE/SP, reports the eradication of 3,304,760 cannabis plants in 2001 from both outdoor (3,068,632) and indoor (236,128) cultivation sites. In 2000 DCE/SP reported the eradication of 2,814,903 cannabis plants from outdoor (2,597,798) and indoor (217,105) cultivation sites.

California appears to be the primary domestic source area for marijuana produced from both outdoor- and indoor-cultivated cannabis. In 2001 California greatly exceeded all states in eradication of cannabis plants from outdoor (1,086,809) and indoor sites (113,009), according to the DCE/SP. The USFS reports that 6 of the 10 leading national forests for plant eradication in 2001 were in California; San Diego County's Cleveland National Forest alone accounted for more than half the cannabis plants eradicated from NFS lands in California. High-grade marijuana (typically sinsemilla) has been produced in the northern California counties of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity for several years, and recent production in the area has been described as high regarding both yield and quality. Moreover, both the DEA Los Angeles and San Francisco Field Divisions report increases in the size and scope of indoor cultivation in their areas, noting the use of structures built exclusively for cultivation operations, some of which are concealed underground.

Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as Hawaii, are principal domestic source areas for marijuana produced primarily from outdoor cultivation. These states account for the highest outdoor eradication figures, excluding California, under the DCE/SP. Kentucky and Tennessee combined accounted for 891,755 cannabis plants eradicated from outdoor sites in 2001, and approximately three-quarters of the total plants eradicated in these states were eradicated from designated HIDTA counties. Hawaii accounted for 525,041 cannabis plants eradicated from outdoor sites in 2001, according to the DCE/SP. The Hawaii HIDTA reports that 70 to 80 percent of cultivation in Hawaii occurs on public lands and that the largest growing area is on the island of Hawaii.

Much of the outdoor cannabis cultivation in the United States occurs on public lands, where cultivators can take advantage of the remoteness of the areas as well as minimize the risk of asset forfeiture if apprehended. Consequently, NFS lands, as well as lands managed by the Department of the Interior (DOI), account for a considerable number of cannabis plants eradicated each year. The USFS reports eradicating 719,985 cannabis plants from NFS lands in 2001, and the DOI reports eradicating 125,428 cannabis plants in 2001. Cultivation on California NFS lands in particular appears to be rising: the number of plants eradicated in that state in both 2000 (443,595) and 2001 (495,536) was more than double that for Kentucky (201,227 and 170,314), a more prolific state historically with regard to eradication. The size of cultivation sites on NFS lands continues to increase in California, where an average of 2,294 plants were cultivated per site in 2001, and continues to decrease in Kentucky, where the average was 40 plants per site.

Cultivators of domestic cannabis typically are residents of the area in which the cannabis is located. Cannabis cultivators, particularly those in northern California and Appalachia, often run family-based operations or form loose confederations with other cultivators and brokers, occasionally pooling resources to distribute the marijuana produced. Most outdoor cultivators in the United States are Caucasian independent growers; however, over the past few years Mexican drug trafficking organizations have increased their involvement in cultivation operations in the United States, particularly on federal- and state-owned land.

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Drought, aggressive eradication programs, increased law enforcement efforts, and the potential to cultivate better quality marijuana have led many cultivators to modify their outdoor operations by decreasing the number of plants grown per site and scattering smaller plots across wider areas, or to completely abandon outdoor sites for indoor operations. DEA Field Divisions in Dallas, Detroit, Miami, and New Orleans report decreases in outdoor cultivation. Conversely, the Gulf Coast HIDTA, although reporting a decline in local production in general, notes a shift toward outdoor cultivation specifically on public lands.

The extent of indoor cultivation in the United States is largely unknown, although eradication data and the frequency with which seizures of indoor grow operations occur suggest indoor cultivation is prevalent throughout the country. According to the DCE/SP, the states with the highest number of plants eradicated from indoor sites in 2001 are California (113,009), Washington (25,779), and Florida (15,151). DEA Field Divisions in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, and St. Louis--in addition to those in Los Angeles and San Francisco mentioned previously--report increases in indoor cultivation, as do the Central Florida, North Florida, and Rocky Mountain HIDTAs. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Florida in particular appears to be the site not only of increasing indoor cultivation but also of increasingly organized growing operations, including the conversion of entire homes to indoor cannabis cultivation operations.

Mexico, Colombia, Canada, and Jamaica are considered the four primary source areas of foreign-produced marijuana available in the United States. According to DEA, Mexico is the source of most foreign-produced marijuana available in the United States. Mexico is also the only source area for which a statistically valid production estimate exists. In 2001 estimated net production of marijuana in Mexico was 7,400 metric tons, up from 7,000 metric tons in 2000. Northern Mexico accounted for almost 70 percent of the total crop in 2001.

Estimates of marijuana production in Colombia have been reported in the INCSR at 4,150 metric tons annually since 1996; however, there are no current accepted interagency estimates of the amount of marijuana destined for the United States from Colombia. Cannabis eradication in that country is limited since resources are deployed against coca and opium cultivation, and the U.S. Government has not confirmed reported cannabis cultivation in Colombia for several years.

The RCMP has estimated marijuana production in Canada at 800 metric tons annually since 1998. But considering reports of the profitability of cannabis cultivation in Canada and the expansion of operations throughout the country, indications are that the level of marijuana production in Canada will increase. The RCMP reports that the majority of cannabis cultivators are Canadian and operate independently but further notes the continued involvement of outlaw motorcycle gangs (primarily Hells Angels) and the growing dominance of Asian criminal groups (typically Vietnamese) in marijuana production. Cannabis cultivators in Canada appear to be moving their operations indoors. The increased prevalence of indoor cultivation magnifies the uncertainty in estimating marijuana production in Canada.

According to the INCSR, Jamaica is the largest source area of marijuana in the Caribbean, and the DEA Caribbean Field Division reports that production on the island is rising steadily. There is, however, no accurate estimate of the amount of cannabis currently under cultivation in that country. The only figure reported for 2001--the number of hectares eradicated (332)--is less than half that reported in 1997 (743), the last year for which a marijuana production estimate was reported. Potential yield was 214 metric tons in that year. Local farmers control cultivation sites in Jamaica, and drug traffickers pay the farmers to plant and harvest cannabis for distribution in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

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Significant quantities of marijuana produced in foreign source areas are smuggled into the United States primarily via the U.S.-Mexico border, but a considerable amount of marijuana is smuggled into the country via the Caribbean and U.S.-Canada border as well. Marijuana produced in foreign and domestic source areas is transported to and throughout the country primarily overland but also via maritime ports, airports, and mail facilities. Quantities smuggled per shipment vary from just a few pounds to thousands, often depending on the transportation method used. Transporters of marijuana include drug trafficking organizations, criminal groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and independent smugglers of Hispanic, Caribbean, Asian, Caucasian, and African American origin.

Most of the foreign-produced marijuana in the United States either originates in or transits Mexico before being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups with extensive networks of associates within the United States control the smuggling of Mexican marijuana to this country. Methods of transportation are broad and primarily involve commercial and private vehicles crossing the border; tractor-trailers are used most often for shipments of 1,000 pounds or more, while shipments in private vehicles often range from 50 to 500 pounds. Commercial buses that provide cross-border service in the southwestern United States are used frequently for smaller shipments of 30 to 60 pounds. Other overland transport methods include rail, horse, and couriers on foot, such as backpackers who cross the border typically between POEs. Smugglers also use commercial and noncommercial vessels off Mexico's Pacific and western Caribbean coasts as well as aircraft.

EPIC seizure data show that the POEs accounting for most of the marijuana seized along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2001 are El Paso (104,257 kg), San Ysidro (59,073 kg), Calexico (54,353 kg), Otay Mesa (53,203 kg), and Laredo (34,483 kg). The El Paso and San Ysidro POEs also led all Southwest Border POEs in 2000 with 75,021 and 73,514 kilograms of marijuana seized, respectively, in that year. From POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border, large shipments of marijuana often are initially destined for metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson, where traffickers store or break down wholesale quantities to midlevel and retail quantities. Primary market areas supplied with marijuana smuggled over the U.S.-Mexico border include Central Arizona, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle.

Smuggling Between POEs

Significant amounts of marijuana are smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border between POEs. EPIC seizure data show marijuana seizures of 248,033 kilograms in 2000 and 264,456 kilograms in 2001. Texas and Arizona accounted for more than 90 percent of the marijuana seized between POEs in both years.

Smugglers also exploit public lands adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border to move marijuana and other drugs into the country, according to the USFS. Of 92,400 pounds (nearly 42,000 kg) of processed marijuana seized on NFS lands in 2001, 88,229 pounds, or approximately 40,000 kilograms--which the USFS attributes to border trafficking--were seized on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.

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Marijuana smuggled into the United States via POEs in the southeastern United States and along the East Coast is primarily from Colombia and Jamaica. According to FDSS data, Florida accounted for the fifth highest amount of marijuana seized in 2001 (behind the four Southwest Border states only) with 30 metric tons, while the South Atlantic/Caribbean accounted for the majority of marijuana (5.7 of 5.9 mt) seized at sea. Colombian drug trafficking organizations transport bulk shipments of marijuana from Colombia's coastal regions to the United States either directly via commercial cargo ships or by way of transit countries, such as Mexico and Jamaica, via fishing vessels and go-fast boats. Traffickers based in Jamaica transport local and Colombian marijuana to the United States using couriers on commercial flights as well as commercial cargo ships and go-fast boats that often transit the Bahamas and other islands. Marijuana transported from Colombia and Jamaica has been reported as also transiting the Dominican Republic en route to the United States. The DEA Caribbean Field Division reports that marijuana seizures in the Dominican Republic increased significantly between 2000 and 2001.

EPIC seizure data show that commercial maritime seizures of marijuana at the Miami POE increased from 10,078 kilograms in 2000 to 17,996 kilograms in 2001. The POE at Charleston, South Carolina, was among the leading POEs for commercial maritime seizures of marijuana in 2000 and 2001, with 1,404 and 1,806 kilograms seized, respectively. Commercial air seizures of marijuana at the Miami POE decreased from 1,142 kilograms in 2000 to 697 kilograms in 2001; however, amounts seized from commercial air at the New York POE increased during that period, from 774 to 1,276 kilograms. Primary market areas supplied with marijuana smuggled via the Caribbean include Miami and New York.

Much of the marijuana produced in Canada supplies demand in that country. Nonetheless a sizable yet undetermined amount--much of which is higher potency marijuana--is smuggled into the United States. Those smuggling marijuana from Canada into the United States include outlaw motorcycle gangs such as Hells Angels and Bandidos; Asian criminal groups, particularly Vietnamese but also those of Indian and Pakistani origin; and independent smugglers including Caucasian Canadian or U.S. citizens and Native Americans. Most smuggling across the border is overland but the means vary greatly, from commercial and private vehicles to backpackers and snowmobiles. Private aircraft, fishing vessels and ferries, as well as mail services are used as well to transport marijuana from Canada to the United States.

EPIC seizure data show that the POEs at Blaine (1,705 kg) and Lynden (468 kg) in Washington accounted for the most marijuana seized at U.S.-Canada POEs in 2001. The Blaine POE has led all U.S.-Canada POEs in amounts seized for the past 3 years, while seizures at the Lynden POE have risen sharply from 71 kilograms seized in 1999 and 393 kilograms in 2000. Seizures of marijuana along the U.S.-Canada border between POEs have fluctuated. The U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) reports seizures of 7,167 pounds (approximately 3,251 kg) in FY2000 and 4,495 pounds, or 2039 kilograms, in FY2001; FY2002 seizures through May totaled 6,835 pounds (approximately 3,100 kg). Primary market areas supplied with marijuana smuggled across the U.S.-Canada border include Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.

A large amount of domestic marijuana is intended for sale and use in the vicinity in which it is produced. Nonetheless some--especially that grown in high production areas--is intended for transport to other areas of the country, and an undetermined amount of domestic marijuana may be smuggled to other countries. Law enforcement reporting indicates that marijuana is transported from California to Hawaii and to cities throughout the continental United States; from Kentucky and Tennessee to the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions, California, and New York; and from Hawaii to the mainland, primarily California, as well as to Canada and Mexico.

Many of the same traffickers mentioned previously transport marijuana within the United States. Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups control the transportation not only of marijuana smuggled through POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border but also of marijuana produced at cultivation sites they control in California. Jamaican criminal groups transport marijuana supplied by Mexican traffickers (some of it hydroponic) from the southwestern United States to markets in the eastern half of the country. Other marijuana transporters within the United States include outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian criminal groups, local independent growers and dealers, as well as those of Hispanic, Caribbean, and Caucasian origin--both as members of organized groups and as independent transporters.

The transport of marijuana in the United States occurs mostly overland in commercial and private vehicles, trains, and buses, although commercial and private aircraft and watercraft are used as well. The use of mail services appears to be routine and growing. Data from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) indicate that marijuana is the drug most commonly seized from parcels, and reporting from several law enforcement agencies indicates growing use of this method. DEA and HIDTA reporting identifies mail services as one of the most common means to transport marijuana in Connecticut, Delaware, and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. Shipments of marijuana transported through mail services typically range from 5 to 40 pounds per parcel.

During transport, the methods used to conceal wholesale and midlevel quantities of marijuana--often compressed bricks wrapped in cellophane and tape--can range from elaborate, remotely triggered false compartments installed in vehicles to burlap sacks. Marijuana shipments of 1,000 pounds or more frequently are intermingled with legitimate goods such as furniture and produce and transported in cargo containers or refrigerated compartments. According to law enforcement reporting, multipound quantities have been transported in plastic- or canvas-wrapped bales (50-75 lb), in duffel or hockey bags (40-100 lb), and inside tires, television sets, and stereo speakers.

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Marijuana distribution appears to be stable throughout the country. The level of domestic production, including indoor cultivation, has ensured that the marijuana supply is steady year-round. Demand is also steady, and indications are that the demand for marijuana exceeds that for any other illicit drug. Because of such factors, drug traffickers--from large-scale polydrug organizations to independent dealers--appear to rely on marijuana as a stable commodity that generates considerable profits and that, in some cases, helps finance other drug operations.

Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican and Hispanic drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of most foreign-produced marijuana in the United States. Many of these organizations and groups also distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Asian and Asian American criminal groups distribute wholesale and midlevel marijuana primarily in the Pacific region. Nationally, Caucasian, Mexican, and Jamaican distributors appear to be most active in midlevel distribution. Nonetheless Jamaican criminal groups are identified as primary wholesale distributors, particularly in the Florida/Caribbean and New York/New Jersey regions, and Caucasian independent dealers are the dominant wholesale and retail distributors of most domestic marijuana throughout the country.

Retail distribution typically reflects the demographics of a given area and involves a wide range of criminal groups, gangs, and independent dealers. Retail distributors of marijuana include criminal groups of Hispanic, Caribbean, Caucasian, and Asian origin; street gangs, such as Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings, as well as local gangs; and Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Jamaican, and Native American independent dealers.

Typical packaging for marijuana consists of plastic bags, although these now are often heat- or vacuum-sealed, particularly when holding a pound or more. One-pound quantities also have been packaged in paper bags, oven-cooking bags, and vacuum-packed coffee cans. Smaller plastic resealable bags are used most often for retail-level quantities, but the use of small manila envelopes has been reported in the Florida/Caribbean and New York/New Jersey regions. Law enforcement reporting indicates that plastic bags and envelopes are sometimes marked with color coding or a grade level to denote the quality of the marijuana or with a logo specific to a particular dealer.


Primary Market Areas

Marijuana is widely reported as the most abused illicit drug by law enforcement and public health agencies. Use of marijuana is high and widespread and often occurs sequentially or concurrently with other illicit drugs; therefore for the purposes of this report, primary market areas have been determined based on the role they serve in the national-level distribution of wholesale quantities of marijuana. Primary market areas for marijuana include Central Arizona, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle. Other significant areas include Dallas, Houston, and San Diego.

Figure 8. Primary Market Areas: Marijuana

Map ot the U.S. showing Central Arizona, (the Phoenix-Tucson corridor), Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle as Primary Market Areas for marijuana.

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Central Arizona. Any significant quantities of marijuana distributed within or from Central Arizona are produced in Mexico; domestic cultivation in the area is somewhat limited. Mexican drug trafficking organizations control wholesale distribution of marijuana in Central Arizona, although Jamaican traffickers are active as well. Mexican marijuana is transported to Phoenix and Tucson, where it typically is stored in lots of 500-1,000 pounds until further distribution is arranged. The Arizona HIDTA reports that loosely affiliated transportation groups provide their services to the drug trafficking organizations to transport the marijuana from Phoenix and Tucson to markets in every region of the country. Transport to these markets occurs mostly via commercial and private vehicles, although the use of mail services is increasing.

Midlevel and retail distributors, both independent dealers and members of organized networks, also travel to Central Arizona from areas throughout the United States to purchase marijuana for distribution in their home areas. Within Phoenix and Tucson, Mexican drug trafficking organizations control retail sales through a network of distribution cells, while gangs deal in gram to ounce quantities. Cellular telephones and pagers are commonly used at all levels of distribution to facilitate sales.

Chicago. Most of the marijuana available in Chicago is produced in Mexico; it is transported in bulk quantities, primarily in commercial vehicles, via southwestern states to the Chicago area. Law enforcement reporting suggests approximately half of the marijuana transported to Chicago is intended for distribution in other markets. These markets are typically within the Great Lakes region and include Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Chicago also has been identified as the source of marijuana seized in 2001 in Alabama, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the primary transporters of marijuana to Chicago, although the DEA Chicago Field Division reports that local traffickers travel to the Southwest Border area and transport bulk shipments back to the Chicago area as well. Mexican drug trafficking organizations also are the primary wholesalers of the drug in the city, supplying midlevel distributors who typically are trusted associates of the organizations. These midlevel distributors supply street gangs such as Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords--the dominant retail distributors of marijuana in Chicago. Independent dealers, including members of local criminal groups and growers of locally produced marijuana, also distribute at the retail level. Marijuana retail sales in Chicago typically occur in lower income areas on street corners and in public housing developments; however, some sales are prearranged by cellular telephone or pager and take place in private homes or vehicles.

Los Angeles. Most of the marijuana in Los Angeles is produced in Mexico, smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border, and stored in the metropolitan area before being distributed to markets in the United States. Marijuana is shipped from Los Angeles by vehicle, rail, aircraft, and mail services to cities in every region of the country.

In the Los Angeles area Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of Mexican marijuana. Local independent dealers are the primary wholesalers of domestic marijuana, particularly that produced through indoor cultivation. Jamaican criminal groups continue to be a presence in the Los Angeles area and maintain ties with Mexican traffickers. Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups supply marijuana produced in Mexico and in California in wholesale quantities to other trafficking organizations and in retail quantities to African American and Hispanic street gangs. Independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of most marijuana produced domestically.

Miami. Marijuana from Colombia, Jamaica, and Mexico is smuggled into Miami for local, regional, and national distribution. Domestically produced marijuana also is distributed within Miami and from Miami to other U.S. drug markets. Law enforcement reporting identifies increases in the availability of Jamaican, domestic, and sinsemilla marijuana. Marijuana is distributed from Miami to the Florida/Caribbean, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, New England, New York/New Jersey, Pacific, and Southeast regions.

Mexican and Jamaican distributors control the sale of wholesale quantities of marijuana in Miami. Local cultivators, who often are of Cuban origin and produce marijuana from indoor grow sites, distribute as well. Cellular telephones and pagers are used to facilitate retail distribution, which is increasingly shifting from sales in private homes to transactions involving prearranged locations and deliveries.

New York. Most types of foreign-produced marijuana, as well as domestically produced marijuana, are distributed within New York and from the city to other U.S. drug markets. Mexican and Jamaican criminal groups transport marijuana overland, by air, and by mail from California and the Southwest to the metropolitan area. Colombian and Jamaican traffickers use the same methods to transport marijuana to New York from Florida and the Southeast. The New York/New Jersey HIDTA reports that Mexican, Colombian, and Jamaican traffickers transport marijuana into New York by maritime means as well. Outlaw motorcycle gangs and Vietnamese criminal groups transport marijuana from Canada, typically overland and often through the St. Regis Mohawk/Akwesasne Indian Reservation. Most domestic marijuana available in the city is cultivated in other states or the upstate region of New York; indoor cultivation in the city is limited.

Although no single group controls distribution, Jamaican criminal groups are the most prominent distributors in the city, often maintaining control of the drug from transportation to retail sales. Individuals and groups with past or present associations with traditional organized crime are prominent in wholesale and midlevel marijuana distribution as well as the financing of a limited number of large-scale urban indoor grows. Mexican drug trafficking organizations are active in wholesale and midlevel distribution as well. Marijuana is distributed from New York to cities in the Mid-Atlantic, New England, New York/New Jersey, and Southeast regions. The New York/New Jersey HIDTA reports that some criminal groups in New York supply marijuana to upstate distributors, and the DEA New York Field Division reports that Buffalo appears to be used as a storage location for marijuana smuggled into Canada.

Street gangs such as Bloods and Latin Kings are active in midlevel and retail distribution in various areas of the city. Local independent dealers are increasing their involvement in retail distribution and sell marijuana at open-air markets, indoors, and through call-and-deliver methods. Members of outlaw motorcycle gangs distribute at the retail level but primarily in outlying areas. Joints and blunts are common in New York, and retail sales sometimes involve packages of rolled joints. Other street-level quantities of marijuana are packaged in manila envelopes, aluminum foil, and small transparent bags.

Seattle. Marijuana is the most widely abused drug in Seattle, and reporting indicates that availability of the drug is increasing. Sinsemilla, produced locally and in Canada (often referred to as BC Bud), and commercial-grade marijuana, produced locally and in Mexico, are widely available in the area. Marijuana is distributed from the area on a national level. Seattle has been identified as the source of marijuana distributed in the Florida/Caribbean, Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, and West Central regions as well as in Texas.

Local independent dealers, usually Caucasians, control the distribution of domestic marijuana, while Mexican polydrug trafficking organizations are the primary wholesalers of Mexican marijuana. Hells Angels members and Vietnamese criminal groups are involved principally in the distribution of Canada-produced marijuana. Asian American distributors are active in Seattle as well. Both independent dealers and organized distribution networks conduct retail sales. Retail marijuana distributors in Seattle typically do not sell other drugs.

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Key Developments

Law enforcement reporting indicates growing involvement of large-scale trafficking organizations in cannabis cultivation. Drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico supply workers for, or otherwise maintain control of, cannabis cultivation sites in California, including on NFS lands, as well as in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas. These organizations often control or coordinate the transportation and distribution of marijuana with other criminal groups. This trend is not limited to the United States. The RCMP and Europol report that organized crime is becoming increasingly involved in cannabis cultivation in Canada and in European Union countries.



Efforts to ease the penalties associated with marijuana possession will continue. Eight states--Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington--have passed initiatives allowing the use of marijuana for claimed medical purposes, and one state (Hawaii) has enacted legislation. Efforts in Nevada during the 2002 election to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana (up to 3 oz) followed the passing of the state's medical marijuana initiative in 2000. Arizona also had an initiative on the November 2002 ballot to reduce penalties for possession. Initiatives at the state and local levels to decriminalize or reduce penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana will continue to emerge, particularly in those states that have already passed medical initiatives. Despite the failure of these initiatives to pass in 2002, efforts to decriminalize or reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana will continue at the state and local levels, particularly in those states that have already passed medical marijuana initiatives.


End Note

16. The Potency Monitoring Project, funded by NIDA and conducted at the University of Mississippi, analyzes samples of marijuana seized by federal and state law enforcement agencies.


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