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Small-scale methamphetamine laboratories pose a significant threat to the Appalachia HIDTA region. Law enforcement reporting and laboratory seizure data indicate increasing methamphetamine production in the region, principally by Caucasian traffickers. According to National Seizure System (NSS) data, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the region increased from 318 in 2008 to 420 in 2009, with the increase specifically reported in HIDTA counties in Kentucky. (See Table 2.) Tennessee law enforcement officials also report increasing methamphetamine production in HIDTA counties despite NSS data showing a slight decrease in laboratory seizures.f Increased production is attributed to the widespread use of the one-pot production method and the abundance of pseudoephedrine smurfing operations.

Table 2. Methamphetamine Laboratories Seized in Appalachia HIDTA Counties, 2005-2009

  2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Kentucky 88 79 75 116 220
Tennessee 244 295 149 167 166
West Virginia 87 55 30 35 34
Total 419 429 254 318 420

Source: National Seizure System, run date April 6, 2010.

High levels of outdoor cannabis cultivation occur within in the Appalachia HIDTA region, usually aided by favorable growing climates and the presence of well-organized cannabis growers. In addition, cannabis cultivation is a multigenerational trade in the region, as young family members are introduced to the trade by older members who have produced marijuana for many years. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program data for 2009 indicate that 92 percent of the nearly 10 million outdoor cannabis plants eradicated in the United States were eradicated in only seven states--California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia (commonly referred to as the Marijuana Seven, or M7, states). The Appalachia HIDTA region is composed of portions of three of these seven states--Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, which accounted for approximately 10 percent (991,538) of all outdoor plants eradicated nationally in 2009.

While cannabis continues to be cultivated extensively at outdoor grow sites in the Appalachia HIDTA region, some cultivators have changed production patterns in an attempt to avoid eradication by law enforcement officers. Some growers have changed from large outdoor grow sites with centralized plots and high plant counts to smaller, decentralized plots with low plant counts. These changes appear to have resulted in a 26 percent decrease in the number of cannabis plants eradicated from outdoor grow sites in counties of the Appalachia HIDTA region from 2008 through 2009.g (See Table 3 at end of section.) Most cannabis grow sites in the region are operated by Caucasian traffickers, while others are operated by Mexican or Hispanic traffickers.

Suspected Hispanic Grow Site Seized in Campbell County, Tennessee

In September 2009, law enforcement officers with the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee National Guard, Campbell County Sheriff's Department, Claiborne County Sheriff's Department, and U.S. Forest Service seized a suspected Hispanic-operated outdoor grow site in Tennessee. Approximately 151,250 cannabis plants were eradicated from six grow sites on privately owned timber lands in Campbell County. Although no suspects were apprehended, Hispanic involvement was suspected because of the items found at campsites near the grow sites, such as Spanish-version newspapers and other characteristics common among Hispanic grow sites, including the use of dams and irrigation tubing to water the plants. This was the second Hispanic-operated grow site found by Tennessee law enforcement over the past 2 years.

Source: Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area; Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Some indoor cannabis cultivation takes place in the Appalachia HIDTA region. Law enforcement officers report that some growers continue to move outdoor operations indoors to avoid unpredictable weather conditions and eradication efforts by local law enforcement. The number of cannabis plants eradicated from indoor grow sites in the region increased 7 percent from 2008 through 2009. (See Table 3.)

Table 3. Cannabis Plants Eradicated at Outdoor and Indoor Grow Sites in Appalachia HIDTA Counties, 2005-2009

  Outdoor Indoor
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Kentucky 363,365 387,780 285,938 246,901 226,840 392 50 333 1,215 709
Tennessee 323,278 309,961 117,482 436,859 292,675 620 111 112 0 78
West Virginia 38,437 41,761 32,079 72,413 38,038 263 1,165 510 448 994
Total 725,080 739,502 435,499 756,173 557,553 1,275 1,326 955 1,663 1,781

Source: Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area; Kentucky State Police; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; West Virginia Army National Guard.

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The Appalachia HIDTA region has a highly accessible transportation system (see Figure 1), including major roadways that link it to many domestic drug markets, such as Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and those in Florida, North Carolina, and the Southwest Border area. Traffickers routinely exploit the interstate highway system to transport wholesale quantities of cocaine and Mexican methamphetamine and commercial-grade marijuana into the region from the Southwest Border area and Atlanta to Knoxville, Louisville, and Charleston, West Virginia, for further distribution to the Appalachia HIDTA region and adjacent counties.

Overland transportation in private, rental, and commercial vehicles is the most common method used to move illicit drugs into the Appalachia HIDTA region. Most drugs are transported into, through, and from the region using Interstates 40 and 75 as well as other secondary roadways that provide access to various source cities. For example, in March 2010, Tennessee law enforcement officers stopped a vehicle heading north on I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga and discovered 5 pounds of marijuana concealed inside a duffel bag. The driver of the rental vehicle was a Knoxville resident who claimed to be returning to the area from Atlanta. Law enforcement reporting further indicates that U.S. Highway 23, a north-south highway extending from Michigan to Florida, is increasingly being used as a route for the flow of illegal drugs through the Appalachia HIDTA region.

Traffickers also use other methods to transport drugs into and through the region, including couriers on commercial flights and package delivery services. The headquarters of a large package delivery service company is in Louisville, and law enforcement officers routinely seize large quantities of drugs from parcels transiting Louisville that originated in Arizona, California, and Texas and were destined for areas such as Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee. For example, in 2009, the Louisville Metro Police Drug Task Force intercepted more than 1,700 parcels and seized more than 9,979 kilograms of marijuana, 478 kilograms of codeine, 108 kilograms of cocaine, 32 kilograms of PCP (phencyclidine), 51,601 dosage units of prescription drugs, and $374,193 in U.S. currency.


f. The reporting of methamphetamine laboratory seizures varies by agency in the Appalachia HIDTA region and may also vary from NSS reporting. For example, some agencies report the number of seized laboratories based upon the physical locations of methamphetamine laboratory seizures, while other agencies count each vessel at a site as a separate laboratory.
g. Appalachia HIDTA officials report that fluctuations in the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year are frequently the result of reductions or increases in available eradication resources and do not necessarily indicate a change in the amount of cannabis cultivated in the region. Nonetheless, major shifts in the allocation of eradication resources were not reported in 2009.

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