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Phoenix and Tucson Market Areas

The two major drug market areas in the Arizona HIDTA region, the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas, serve as staging areas and transshipment centers for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine smuggled into the United States from Mexico. Moreover, they are the most noteworthy areas for illicit drug trafficking and abuse in the HIDTA region.


Phoenix is a regional- and national-level transportation and distribution center for methamphetamine and marijuana and a regional distribution center for cocaine and Mexican black tar heroin. The area's well-developed highway system facilitates the shipment of illicit drugs from Mexico to Phoenix for local distribution and transshipment to drug markets throughout the country.

Mexican DTOs dominate wholesale drug distribution in and around Phoenix; however, local street gangs are increasingly distributing illicit drugs, primarily marijuana, at the wholesale level and midlevel. The prison-based gang Arizona New Mexican Mafia and the Tucson street gang Barrio Hollywood distribute large quantities of marijuana in both Phoenix and Tucson. Various Bloods and Crips sets also distribute up to 100-pound quantities of marijuana throughout the Phoenix area. Operation CRIPpled Blues, a joint Arizona DPS and Phoenix-area police department action in early February 2010, resulted in the arrests of 148 individuals and the seizure of over 700 pounds of marijuana and more than 10 weapons from Crips-affiliated gang members operating in South Phoenix. Former rival street gangs now cooperate with each other to transport and distribute marijuana in Phoenix and increase profits. Authorities estimate that there are more than 10,000 gang members in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Much of the violent crime and property crime in Phoenix is drug- and/or gang-related. Phoenix law enforcement indicates that most home invasion robberies are criminal-on-criminal, aimed at ripping off drug loads or recently garnered profits from narcotics sales. Likewise, many kidnappings are retaliatory or are attempts to recover the cost of lost drug loads or to obtain money for payment of outstanding debts.


Tucson is a regional- and national-level distribution center for illicit drugs, particularly marijuana. Mexican DTOs exploit the area because of its proximity to Mexico and its location near vast tracts of remote land commonly used by Mexican DTOs to transport illicit drugs into and through Arizona, such as the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, Coronado National Forest, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

A significant amount of marijuana is transported from Mexico to Arizona through public lands, such as tribal reservations and national parks. National Park Service officials report that in 2009, more than 6,300 pounds of marijuana were seized on the grounds of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and more than 4,000 pounds were seized in the Coronado National Forest. Much of the marijuana is carried by backpackers to predetermined locations, where the loads are assembled and picked up by other traffickers. Park Service workers have also recovered increasing numbers of abandoned weapons, sometimes left with stashed drug loads.

Mexican DTOs dominate wholesale drug distribution in and around Tucson; however, gangs in Tucson also are increasingly involved in all levels of drug distribution, primarily marijuana distribution. Law enforcement in the Tucson area reports that Arizona street gangs and Mexican DTOs are cooperating to further the distribution of illicit drugs in the area. According to the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), the largest street gang in Tucson, Barrio Hollywood, and the Arizona New Mexican Mafia work together to transport large amounts of marijuana from the U.S.-Mexico border to Tucson for distribution within the city. Gangs based on tribal lands also are involved in drug transportation and distribution on the reservations. According to the Arizona HIDTA, at least 28 gangs operate on the Tohono O'odham Reservation alone.

Authorities in Tucson estimate the gang presence in the city to be approximately 5,200 gang members and 100 gangs. Drug-related crime associated with these gangs poses a considerable threat to Tucson. African American street gangs such as Bloods and Crips sets conduct home invasion robberies in the Tucson area, a type of crime previously conducted primarily by Hispanic street gangs. Additionally, gang-on-gang violence in Tucson is increasing. Given the proximity of Tucson to the border, it is expected that gang activity and drug-related crime will become an increasing problem for law enforcement in the area.

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