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NDIC seal linked to Home page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Utah Drug Threat Assessment
March 2003


Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in Utah, and there is evidence to suggest that abuse of the drug is increasing. Marijuana produced by Mexican criminal groups in Mexico and California is the most common type available in the state. However, marijuana produced in Utah also is available and typically commands a higher price because its potency exceeds that of Mexico- or California-produced marijuana. Caucasian criminal groups produce high potency marijuana in the state; they distribute the drug directly as well as supply local independent dealers. Mexican criminal groups dominate the transportation and wholesale and midlevel distribution of marijuana produced in Mexico or California. At the retail level street gangs, Mexican and Caucasian criminal groups, and local independent dealers distribute marijuana.


Treatment admissions data indicate that marijuana abuse has increased steadily in Utah. Data from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse indicate that marijuana/hashish-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Utah increased from 2,705 in FY1997 to 3,694 in FY2001. (See Table 2 in Methamphetamine section.)

The rate of marijuana abuse in Utah is slightly lower than the national rate, and most marijuana abusers are young adults. According to the 1999 and 2000 NHSDA, 3.2 percent of Utah residents surveyed reported abusing marijuana at least once in the month prior to the survey, compared with 4.8 percent nationwide. Individuals 18 to 25 years of age in Utah reported the highest rate (7.4%) of past month marijuana abuse.

The percentage of high school students reporting marijuana abuse in Utah is lower than the national percentage. According to 2001 YRBS data, 19.7 percent of Utah high school students surveyed reported having abused marijuana at least once in their lifetime, compared with 42.4 percent nationwide. In addition, 9.7 percent of Utah high school students surveyed reported that they had abused marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey, compared with 23.9 percent nationwide.

Marijuana is frequently detected among adult male arrestees in Salt Lake City. According to ADAM data, in Salt Lake City 33.5 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive for marijuana in 2000. Among adult male arrestees, 44.1 percent of African Americans, 38.1 percent of Caucasians, and 28.8 percent of Hispanics tested positive for the drug.

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Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in Utah. Marijuana produced by Mexican criminal groups in Mexico and California is the most common type available in the state. Generally, marijuana produced in Mexico and California has a lower potency than locally produced marijuana and sells for a lower price at the wholesale level. DEA reported that marijuana sold for $600 to $1,000 per pound, $80 to $150 per ounce, and $0.50 to $5 per joint in Utah during the first quarter of FY2002. According to the DEA Salt Lake City Resident Office, high potency and locally produced marijuana sold for $2,000 to $5,000 per pound, more than $100 per ounce, and $1 to $5 per joint in the first quarter of FY2002. Small amounts of BC Bud--high potency marijuana produced in Canada--are available. In 2001 BC Bud sold for more than $3,000 per pound in Utah.

Marijuana is readily available in Utah; however, federal law enforcement seizures of the drug have declined. According to FDSS data, marijuana seizures made by federal law enforcement officers in Utah decreased from 635 kilograms in 1998 to 13 kilograms in 2001. (See Table 4 in Methamphetamine section.) Law enforcement officials in Utah reported marijuana seizures totaling 950 kilograms in 1999, 437 kilograms in 2000, and 490 kilograms in 2001 as part of Operation Pipeline, and they did not report any marijuana seizures in 2000 as part of Operation Jetway; however, in 2001 they reported seizing 14 kilograms of the drug.

The percentage of marijuana-related federal sentences in Utah has increased but was significantly lower than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, the percentage of federal sentences in Utah that were marijuana-related increased from 15.2 percent in FY1997 to 18.8 percent in FY2001--lower than the nationwide figure of 32.8. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)



There is some violence associated with the production and distribution of marijuana in Utah. Operators of outdoor cannabis cultivation operations sometimes employ armed Mexican immigrants to protect their sites. According to the DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) statistical report, 17 weapons related to cannabis cultivation operations were seized in Utah in 1999. No weapons were seized from cultivation sites during 2000--the most recent year for which information is available. In addition, some street gangs and local independent dealers in the state use violence to protect their drug distribution territory and drug supplies.

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Although most of the marijuana available in Utah is produced in Mexico and California, cannabis is cultivated in the state, particularly in the northern areas. Outdoor cultivation is the more common method of producing marijuana in Utah, although significant quantities also are produced indoors. The Utah Department of Public Safety reports that Weber County is the center of cannabis cultivation in the state. According to the Utah Criminal Investigations Bureau, in 1999 there were 8,537 cannabis plants eradicated from indoor and outdoor grow sites in Weber County, 661 in Salt Lake County, 456 in Iron County, 217 in San Juan County, 174 in Duchesne County, 112 in Cache County, 34 in Utah County, 27 in Uintah County, 20 in Box Elder County, and 2 each in Davis and Sevier Counties. According to DCE/SP data, the number of outdoor operations eradicated fluctuated significantly from 1997 through 2000. Eight outdoor plots (1,321 plants) were eradicated in 1997, none in 1998, 15 plots (8,870 plants) in 1999, 10 plots (581 plants) in 2000, and 6 plots (113 plants) in 2001.

Indoor cannabis cultivation also is prevalent in Utah. According to DCE/SP data, approximately 42 percent of the cannabis plants eradicated in Utah during 2000 were cultivated indoors. These data reflect significant increases in the number of indoor operations with 1 indoor cultivation site (56 plants) seized in 1997, none in 1998, 43 sites (1,259 plants) in 1999, 108 sites (422 plants) in 2000, and 7 sites (1,736 plants) in 2001. The Box Elder County Sheriff's Office, Central Utah Narcotics Strike Force, Davis County Metro Narcotics Task Force, and Morgan County Sheriff's Office likewise reported increases in the number of indoor cultivation seizures in their jurisdictions.

Mexican criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, Caucasian local independent dealers increasingly are using public lands in Utah for cannabis cultivation. Cultivators select these areas for their remoteness, fertile soil, and low law enforcement presence. Mexican criminal groups commonly employ illegal Mexican aliens to cultivate cannabis in these remote areas. According to the NFS, these criminal groups are dangerous and have a propensity for violence. NFS law enforcement personnel are actively involved in eradicating and suppressing cannabis cultivation in Utah. However, severe fire seasons in 2000 and 2001 coupled with the vast area patrolled by NFS personnel made it difficult to monitor many areas of the state.

Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers dominate the production of high potency marijuana at indoor grow sites throughout Utah. Indoor grow sites are increasingly popular throughout the state as the demand for high potency marijuana continues to increase. These criminal groups and local independent dealers use hydroponic techniques in separate nursery, cloning, and maturation sites in order to produce high potency marijuana. Indoor grow sites often are vulnerable to detection by law enforcement because it is necessary to evacuate the air inside the facility. This creates a distinct skunk-like odor that may persist outside the facility for several hours. State and local law enforcement authorities in many areas of Utah report that some Caucasian local independent dealers use false identities to rent homes that they use solely for the purpose of growing cannabis. In addition, some indoor cannabis cultivators rent trucks to mobilize their operations in order to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Investigators Uncover Underground Marijuana Operation

In March 2001 the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office eradicated 510 cannabis plants, seized a cache of guns and dynamite, and arrested a Duchesne man who operated an underground hydroponic cannabis grow site. During a search of the man's property, law enforcement authorities discovered a trapdoor in a small shed that led to a 10-foot tunnel leading into a large, underground room filled with cannabis plants, timed heat lamps, a hydroponic system, and air vents.

Source: Duchesne County Sheriff's Office; Uintah Basin Narcotics Strike Force.

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Mexican criminal groups dominate the transportation of marijuana into Utah. These criminal groups transport marijuana primarily from Mexico. Some Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers as well as street gangs also transport marijuana from transshipment points in California, Colorado, and Nevada into the state. Law enforcement officials report that Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary transporters of high potency marijuana into and throughout Utah from Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada.

Marijuana typically is transported into Utah in private or rental vehicles via I-15, I-70, I-80, US 89, and US 191. Commercial and private aircraft, buses, and package delivery services also are used. To avoid law enforcement interdiction, transporters often alter their methods of operation by changing routes, hiring couriers, renting vehicles, and using package delivery services.

Marijuana Destined for Utah

During October 2000 law enforcement officers in Flagstaff seized 548 pounds of marijuana that was being transported from El Paso to Salt Lake City in a private vehicle traveling on US 89.

Source: Operation Pipeline.

In July 2000 Operation Jetway Task Force agents in Las Vegas seized approximately 33 pounds of marijuana and arrested one individual who was transporting the drug from San Diego to Salt Lake City on a bus. The individual traveled on a cash one-way ticket and concealed the marijuana in luggage.

Source: Operation Jetway.

Most of the marijuana that is transported into Utah is in transit to other areas of the United States. According to federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, wholesale quantities of marijuana are transported through the state to other regions of the country. Transportation routes for marijuana transiting Utah include I-15, I-70, and US 191.

Marijuana Transported Through Utah

In November 2001 officers with the Utah Highway Patrol operating in San Juan County seized more than 750 pounds of marijuana and arrested the driver of the pickup truck in which the drug was being transported. The driver was traveling from Tucson to Cincinnati on US 191. The marijuana was wrapped in contact paper and dryer sheets and concealed in the bed of the truck. The driver was to be paid $20,000 for transporting the drug.

During May 2000 law enforcement officials in San Juan County seized nearly 300 pounds of marijuana that was being transported from Tucson to Somerset, Kentucky, on US 191 in a private vehicle. The drug was concealed in the trunk of the vehicle.

In January 2000 the Utah Highway Patrol in Price County seized approximately 618 pounds of marijuana and arrested a woman traveling eastbound on I-70 in a rental vehicle from North Hollywood, California, to Baltimore. The marijuana was located in the cargo area of the vehicle and was not concealed. Mustard and coffee grounds were used as masking agents.

Source: Operation Jetway; Operation Pipeline.

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In Utah Mexican criminal groups are the predominant wholesale and midlevel distributors of marijuana produced by Mexican criminal groups in Mexico and California. These criminal groups usually have direct ties to sources of supply. At the wholesale level Mexican criminal groups distribute the drug through familial or personal connections to midlevel distributors, minimizing exposure to informants, law enforcement officers, retail distributors, and abusers. Midlevel distributors subsequently sell the drug to various retail distributors who generally are unaffiliated with the criminal group. Midlevel distributors sell marijuana to various local independent dealers and street gangs throughout Utah. Some Mexican criminal groups also distribute marijuana at the retail level in the state.

Street gangs are the principal retail distributors of marijuana in Utah. Mexican criminal groups supply marijuana to most street gangs in the state, although some street gangs transport multipound quantities of the drug into the state for retail distribution. According to the DEA Salt Lake City Resident Office and law enforcement officials in Utah, numerous gangs distribute marijuana throughout Utah including 013 Ogden Trece, 18th Street, 21st Street Gang, Alley Boys, Armenian Mafia Gang, Baby Browns, Brown Society Gangsters, Deuce Crips, East Side Yo Mama, Gothics, North Ridge Boys, North Side Thug Family, Ogden Violent Gangsters, Original Laotian Posse, La Raza, Silent Aryan Warriors, Sixth Street Gang, Sureņos 13, Sureņos Chiques, Tongan Crip Gangsters, Tongan Crip Regulators, Varrio Loco Town, Vice Lords, and West Side Piru.

Caucasian local independent dealers also distribute Mexico-produced marijuana at the retail level in Utah to a lesser extent. Some Caucasian local independent dealers purchase retail quantities of the drug from Mexican criminal groups in Utah and nearby states. These dealers typically retain a small amount of marijuana for personal use and distribute the remainder to local abusers.

Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary distributors of high potency marijuana in Utah. These criminal groups control nearly all aspects of the production of most locally produced high potency marijuana including seed purchases and cultivation, as well as the wholesale and retail distribution of the drug to local independent dealers and abusers. Local independent dealers typically distribute high potency marijuana purchased from Caucasian criminal groups. However, some local independent dealers also produce the drug for personal use and retail distribution.

At the wholesale level marijuana is distributed in multihundred-pound quantities from businesses such as storage facilities and warehouses. Wholesale quantities of marijuana in Utah typically are packaged in clear cellophane and duct tape. Retail distributors of marijuana sell the drug from businesses, homes, vehicles, and public areas. Retail quantities of marijuana usually are packaged and distributed in small, resealable plastic bags.


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