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National Drug Intelligence Center
North Carolina Drug Threat Assessment
With approximately 8 million residents, North Carolina is the eleventh most populous state. The population increased 21 percent from 1990 to 2000, outpacing the national population growth rate of 13.1 percent. This was primarily due to the state's economic growth, which flourished in the 1990s, led by the manufacturing, tourism, banking, technology, and construction industries. Most of the population growth took place in and around Charlotte, the largest city; Raleigh, the capital; Durham; and the "Triad" region, which includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. The agriculture and textile industries offered job opportunities for farm and blue-collar workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state's population is 72.1 percent Caucasian and 21.6 percent African American. The remainder is Hispanic (4.7%), Asian (1.4%), and American Indian and Alaska Native (1.2%) with some persons reporting two or more races. Some people who came to North Carolina for employment were migrant workers, some of whom were recruited as drug couriers or were members of criminal groups involved in illicit drug transportation and distribution.
North Carolina's vast stretches of rural terrain, particularly in the west, provide opportunities for criminal groups to conceal drug-related activities. Reporting from law enforcement officials indicates that methamphetamine production laboratories frequently are located in the mountains and woods of western and central North Carolina and cannabis cultivation is widespread in areas including the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in the western part of the state.
Most drugs are transported into and through North Carolina via private and commercial vehicles. Criminal groups commonly use interstate highways to transport drugs into the state for distribution in local communities and through the state to destinations in other states. Interstate 95 extends from Miami through North Carolina to the U.S.-Canada border in Maine. Interstate 40 extends from Wilmington in the southeastern corner of North Carolina to California. Interstate 85 branches off I-95 in Virginia, connects Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro, and Charlotte with Atlanta, Georgia, and ends at I-65 in Montgomery, Alabama. Interstate 77 runs from Cleveland, Ohio, through Charlotte to South Carolina. Half of the 56 drug or currency seizures reported by Operation Pipeline in North Carolina in 2000 occurred on I-95. The seizures involved northbound vehicles traveling to New York or New Jersey from Florida and southbound vehicles destined for Florida from the Northeast. Drug or currency seizures were frequent on Interstates 40, 77, and 85.
Criminal groups, particularly Mexican, and to a lesser extent outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), particularly Outlaws, Pagan's, and Hells Angels, transport drugs into and through North Carolina in private and commercial vehicles on interstate highways. Drugs usually are concealed in false compartments in private vehicles or among legitimate goods, such as produce and furniture, in commercial vehicles. Mexican criminal groups, in particular, take advantage of the large volume of goods shipped in tractor-trailers from Mexico to North Carolina to transport drugs into the state. Industries in Mexico shipped 553,742 tons of legitimate goods to North Carolina in tractor-trailers in 2000.
Criminal groups also use commercial buses and passenger trains to transport drugs into North Carolina, though on a more limited basis. All major bus and passenger train carriers provide daily service to major cities in North Carolina--including Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro--from New York City, Miami, Newark, Los Angeles, and Houston, all of which are drug distribution centers. Law enforcement officials report that drugs most commonly are discovered hidden under passengers' clothing or in their shoes or luggage. Although freight service is available from two companies with over 2,650 miles of track, there is no seizure evidence that freight trains are used to transport drugs in North Carolina.
Criminal groups also transport drugs into and through North Carolina by air. North Carolina's air transportation network includes the Charlotte/Douglas, Raleigh-Durham, Piedmont Triad, and Wilmington International Airports. All four service most of the United States and receive and deploy passenger flights operated by all of the major U.S. airlines. Charlotte/Douglas and Raleigh-Durham airports have nonstop service to and from several international destinations including the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Jamaica, and Mexico, as well as U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Thousands of passengers use these airports daily. Operation Jetway seizure data indicate that cocaine and marijuana occasionally are transported into North Carolina on domestic flights from southwestern states. For example, there were 12 marijuana seizures at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in 2000, mostly from flights originating in California. During the same year there were three seizures of powdered cocaine at Piedmont Triad International Airport from flights that originated in California. Law enforcement authorities report that the number of seizures of MDMA tablets is increasing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport from domestic and international flights. Drugs transported on commercial aircraft most commonly are hidden in luggage or concealed in passengers' shoes or clothing.
Criminal groups sometimes transport drugs into North Carolina via package delivery services. Operation Jetway seizure data and local law enforcement reports indicate that packages containing marijuana and methamphetamine are sent via package delivery services from southwestern states to major cities including Charlotte and Durham. Packages are seized primarily at North Carolina's major airports.
North Carolina has two deepwater ports: Wilmington and Morehead City. Legitimate goods are received at these ports of entry from commercial vessels arriving primarily from the Far East and Europe. Very few drug seizures occur at these ports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have made two seizures at these ports since 1994. One involved 10 kilograms of cocaine seized from a containership at the Port of Wilmington in June 1994. The other involved 0.2 gram of hashish seized from a commercial vessel that arrived in Morehead City in February 1996.
Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters and wholesale distributors of cocaine and marijuana in North Carolina. These criminal groups also transport and distribute methamphetamine and a limited amount of heroin. According to law enforcement officials throughout the state, Mexican criminal groups in southwestern states and Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Mexico routinely use Mexican illegal immigrants in North Carolina as couriers to transport cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and, to a lesser extent, heroin into and through the state. These criminal groups exploit a growing Mexican population in North Carolina to facilitate their illicit activities. Law enforcement authorities in North Carolina, principally in the western and southern areas of the state, indicate that Mexican criminal groups are also increasing their involvement in retail drug distribution. This is precipitating violence between Mexican criminal groups and African American retail dealers who traditionally controlled retail drug distribution in these areas.
Gangs and local independent dealers distribute drugs, mostly at the retail level, in North Carolina. Members of African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic gangs distribute cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. According to DEA, Asian gangs are active in drug distribution in Greensboro and Charlotte. Gangs are most active in urban areas and usually distribute two or more drugs. Most of the gangs in North Carolina are not affiliated with large street gangs in other U.S. cities; however, some of the gangs are affiliated with nationally recognized street gangs including Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and MS-13. Law enforcement officials report that most violent crimes committed by gangs result from protecting turf or resolving debts between dealers and customers. Local independent dealers distribute cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and small quantities of heroin and are active in both urban and rural areas.
The Hells Angels, Outlaws, and Pagan's OMGs also transport and distribute drugs, primarily cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, in North Carolina. Through fellow OMG members, they establish connections with drug suppliers in southwestern states. OMG members transport drugs into North Carolina using various methods including motorcycles, other private vehicles, and package delivery services. OMG members typically enlist members of smaller motorcycle gangs or female associates to distribute drugs at the retail level from motorcycle shops, exotic dance clubs, bars, and tattoo parlors. Within the last 10 to 15 years, OMG members have taken steps to change their outward appearance in order to blend with the public. As a result, OMGs have become less visible to law enforcement officials. They also have changed their image by participating in community charity functions. Some OMG members that were former rivals have formed cooperative alliances, profited from joint criminal ventures, and avoid violent acts that capture law enforcement attention.
Criminal investigations initiated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation often are drug-related. The Bureau initiated 3,841 criminal investigations in fiscal year (FY) 2000 in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. Thirty-eight percent of these investigations were drug-related.
According to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the number of drug-related arrests by state and local authorities increased 19 percent from 1994 through 1999, despite a slight decrease in 1999. (See Table 1.) The number of arrests for possession or sale/manufacturing of cocaine or opium fluctuated during the 6-year period. The number of arrests for possession or sale/manufacturing of marijuana increased over 47 percent from 1994 through 1999. (See Table 4 in Marijuana section.)
In 2000 the percentage of federal sentences for drug-related offenses was higher than the national percentage. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), 46.6 percent of all federal sentences in North Carolina in FY2000 were drug-related compared with 39.8 percent nationwide. The number of sentences related to cocaine, marijuana, and heroin fluctuated from FY1996 to FY2000 while the number of methamphetamine-related sentences increased dramatically. While calendar year (CY) and FY data sets cannot be directly compared, FY data reflect similar trends to CY data used throughout this report.
Treatment and survey data indicate that drugs are commonly abused in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, statewide treatment admissions for cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin increased 27 percent from 69,343 in FY1996 to 88,370 in FY1999. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), approximately 5.8 percent of North Carolina residents surveyed reported having abused an illicit drug in the 30 days prior to the survey, comparable to the national average of 6.3 percent.
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