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National Drug Intelligence Center
Colorado Drug Threat Assessment
Marijuana, primarily produced in Mexico, is the most widely available and frequently abused illicit drug in Colorado. However, law enforcement officers generally regard the drug as a lower threat than methamphetamine or cocaine because marijuana abusers and distributors usually do not commit violent crimes. Most of the marijuana available in the state is produced in Mexico; however, marijuana produced in Colorado and other western states, particularly California, by Mexican criminal groups and local independent dealers is also available. Marijuana typically is transported into the state in commercial trucks, rental and private vehicles, and by package delivery services. Marijuana produced in Mexico or by Mexican criminal groups in Colorado and other western states is distributed primarily by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups at the wholesale level and by Hispanic and African American street gangs at the retail level. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary distributors of the marijuana and sinsemilla they produce in Colorado.
Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in Colorado. The percentage of Colorado residents who report having abused marijuana in the past month is higher than the percentage nationwide. According to the 1999 and 2000 NHSDA, 7.8 percent of Colorado residents age 12 and over reported having abused marijuana in the year prior to the survey compared with 4.8 percent nationwide. Marijuana abusers have constituted the largest percentage of self-reported drug abusers in Colorado since 1995, according to ADAD. According to the NDTS, 45 of the 68 Colorado law enforcement respondents who reported marijuana abuse in their jurisdictions indicated a high level of abuse.
Marijuana-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Colorado far exceed admissions associated with any other illicit drug. State data indicate rising marijuana-related treatment admissions through 1999, followed by a decline in 2000 and 2001. ADAD reports that marijuana-related admissions increased from 4,459 in 1997 to 6,339 in 1999. That number decreased to 5,571 in 2000 and to 5,299 in 2001. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) In 2001, 38 percent of marijuana-related treatment admissions were under 17 years old, nearly 75 percent were male, and nearly 56 percent were Caucasian, according to ADAD. Marijuana is a secondary drug commonly mentioned by methamphetamine abusers admitted to treatment facilities. The exact nature of this link is speculative; however, these methamphetamine abusers may be using marijuana to curb the stimulant effects of methamphetamine.
Marijuana increasingly is a factor in drug-related ED mentions in the Denver metropolitan area. According to DAWN, in the Denver metropolitan area marijuana ED mentions increased from 505 in 1997 to 979 in 2001.
Marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in Colorado. According to the NDTS, marijuana availability was reported as high by 53 of 68 Colorado law enforcement respondents. Most of the marijuana available in the state is produced in Mexico. Marijuana produced in Colorado and other western states, primarily California, also is available. High potency marijuana produced in Canada is becoming increasingly available in Colorado's metropolitan areas.
Seizure data reflect the ready availability of marijuana in Colorado. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement officials in Colorado seized 882.5 kilograms of marijuana in 1998, 901.6 kilograms in 1999, 718.1 kilograms in 2000, and 1,591.5 kilograms in 2001. Law enforcement officials seized 2,348.1 kilograms of marijuana in 1999 and 1,520.9 kilograms in 2000 as part of Operation Pipeline and 175.1 kilograms in 2000 as part of Operation Jetway.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were marijuana-related in Colorado was significantly lower than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, approximately 13 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Colorado in FY2001 were marijuana-related compared with nearly 33 percent nationally. There were 21 marijuana-related federal sentences in Colorado in FY1997, 29 in FY1998, 20 in FY1999, 18 in FY2000, and 20 in FY2001. From October 1998 to May 2001, 25 of the 86 OCDETF investigations initiated in Colorado were marijuana-related.
Marijuana prices vary throughout Colorado. According to the DEA Denver Division, marijuana produced in Mexico or western states sold for $500 to $1,000 per pound in Denver in FY2002; locally produced sinsemilla sold for $1,000 to $3,000 per pound and $200 to $300 per ounce. In FY2002 in Colorado Springs, marijuana from Mexican sources sold for $300 to $1,200 per pound and $100 to $150 per ounce. Locally produced sinsemilla sold for $1,500 to $3,200 per pound and $100 to $150 per ounce. In Grand Junction marijuana from Mexican sources sold for $800 per pound and $150 per ounce, and sinsemilla was available for $2,000 to $4,000 per pound and $200 per ounce during the second quarter of 2001. A marijuana cigarette typically sold for $3 to $10 statewide in FY2002. DEA reports that high potency BC Bud, also known as triple-A, which is produced in British Columbia, Canada, is becoming increasingly available in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, and Greeley. BC Bud sells for $3,000 to $5,000 per pound where it is available.
According to the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP), a DEA program that supports 88 state and local law enforcement agencies, 10,862 outdoor and 3,584 indoor cannabis plants were eradicated in Colorado in 2000; 1,948 outdoor and 2,222 indoor cannabis plants were eradicated in 2001.
The production and distribution of marijuana occasionally have been linked to violent crime in Colorado. Law enforcement officials report that outdoor cannabis growers often use countersurveillance equipment, trip wires, and explosives to secure their cultivation sites. According to DCE/SP statistics, 20 firearms were seized from cannabis cultivation sites in Colorado in 2001. According to Denver law enforcement officials, street gangs that distribute marijuana commit violent crimes such as assault, auto theft, drive-by shooting, and homicide, some of which have been related to their marijuana distribution activities.
Most of the marijuana available in Colorado is produced in Mexico. However, marijuana produced by Mexican criminal groups and Caucasian local independent dealers in Colorado and other western states, primarily California, also is available. Marijuana produced in Canada is becoming increasingly available.
Outdoor cannabis cultivation reportedly yields more cannabis than indoor cultivation in Colorado. However, smaller, indoor cannabis growing operations are more common throughout the state. Mexican criminal groups cultivate large-scale outdoor sites containing thousands of cannabis plants in remote areas of Colorado. In July 2002 the Grand Valley Joint Drug Task Force eradicated 10,300 cannabis plants from a grow site operated by a Mexican group near Gateway. The site was situated in a secluded canyon on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property. A local resident discovered the site and reported its location to task force officers. The individual also reported observing four armed men near the site. Outdoor cannabis operations typically are concealed among legitimate agricultural crops or on remote National Forest Service lands. Indoor cannabis grows are common, and there have been significant seizures of indoor grows containing 1,000 or more cannabis plants. Indoor operations that utilize hydroponics to produce high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) sinsemilla are becoming more common. Indoor operations generally are conducted by Caucasian criminal groups and local independent producers.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups based in Mexico and California are the primary transporters of Mexico-produced marijuana and of marijuana produced by Mexican criminal groups in western states. Caucasian local independent distributors and a limited number of Mexican criminal groups transport Canada-produced marijuana to Colorado through northwestern states.
Marijuana typically is transported into Colorado along the state's interstate highway system. Operation Pipeline data from 2000 indicate that I-25 is the highway most often used to transport marijuana to Colorado, although I-70 also is frequently used. Interstate 76 typically is used to transport marijuana from Colorado to destinations in other states. The Four Corners-Durango area is a major transit area for marijuana being transported from Arizona, California, and New Mexico to cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York. Commercial, private, and rental vehicles generally are used to transport marijuana into and through the state.
Marijuana also is transported by couriers traveling aboard commercial aircraft, but to a much lesser extent. The Boulder County Drug Task Force reports that BC Bud available in its jurisdiction is transported from British Columbia via Denver International Airport. The Task Force reports that at least three organizations supply BC Bud to the Boulder area. These organizations have been connected to several seizures of high-grade marijuana at Denver International Airport in 1999 and 2000, including one of 40 pounds and another of 75 pounds. Couriers on commercial flights also transport marijuana to drug markets in other states via connecting flights through Colorado airports.
A small amount of marijuana is transported to Colorado via package delivery services. According to the Rocky Mountain HIDTA, many law enforcement agencies in Colorado report that marijuana is transported into the state in packages that typically contain from 5 to 10 pounds of the drug. Packages containing marijuana and arriving in Colorado usually are shipped from Southern California or Texas.
According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, El Paso, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Los Angeles are the most common cities from which marijuana is transported to Colorado in mail packages.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of marijuana produced in Mexico and western states. African American and Hispanic street gangs also distribute all varieties of marijuana at the retail level. Caucasian local independent dealers distribute locally produced marijuana at the wholesale and retail levels. Mexican DTOs and local independent producers also supply marijuana to Colorado street gangs for retail distribution. Caucasian criminal groups in Boulder, Denver, and Jefferson Counties are the primary distributors of BC Bud in Colorado.
Street gangs, primarily African American and Hispanic, are the principal retail distributors of Mexico-produced marijuana in Colorado's metropolitan areas. According to law enforcement officials, dozens of gangs based in every metropolitan area of the state distribute marijuana; major gangs that distribute marijuana include 18th Street, Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Crips, Gangster Disciples, and Sureņos 13.
Wholesale quantities of marijuana typically are wrapped in cellophane, paper, duct tape, or a combination of the three and are distributed from residences and businesses, including bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Retail quantities of marijuana typically are packaged in plastic bags in one-quarter-ounce amounts. Retail sales generally take place on street corners and in residences.
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