U.S. Department of Justice
National Drug Intelligence Center
Central Valley California HIDTA Drug Market Analysis 2010
The Central Valley HIDTA region is the primary methamphetamine production area, not only in California but also in the United States. In 2009, 50 percent of all methamphetamine laboratories seized in California were located in the Central Valley HIDTA region. (See Table 2.) In addition, 7 of the 13 superlabse seized in California during 2009 were located in the Central Valley. The majority of these laboratories were controlled by Mexican DTOs and located in rural areas--typically on rented property (usually farms) or remote public lands. Although laboratory seizures in the region have declined over the last 5 years as a result of regulatory efforts to control precursor chemicals, the region remains a prominent production area. In 2005, the government of Mexico (GOM) began implementing progressively increasing restrictions on the importation of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine used in methamphetamine production. By 2007, the GOM had announced a prohibition on importing these chemicals into Mexico for 2008 and a ban on the use of both chemicals beginning in 2009. As a result, Mexican DTOs relocated some of their production operations to the Central Valley region.
The environmental damage caused by the disposal of chemicals and chemical waste is substantial in the region. More than half of the state's remediation costs for contaminated methamphetamine production sites are incurred in the Central Valley. In 2009, cleanup of these laboratories cost the state more than $400,000, which accounted for approximately 53 percent of state expenditures to remediate methamphetamine laboratories and dumpsites.
Table 2. Methamphetamine Clandestine Laboratory Removals in Central Valley HIDTA Counties, 2005-2009
|Year||Items Seized||Fresno||Kern||Kings||Madera||Merced||Sacramento||San Joaquin||Shasta||Stanislaus||Tulare||HIDTA Total||CA State Total|
Source: California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
*An abandonment is either a dumpsite or an incomplete laboratory and can include items such as chemical containers, glassware, and equipment.
Since the enactment of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005,f it has been difficult for methamphetamine producers to acquire pseudoephedrine locally. As such, Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are conducting well-organized, large-scale smurfing operations to acquire the necessary pseudoephedrine to maintain major production operations in the region. Law enforcement investigations and pseudoephedrine control legislation have forced these operations to extend well beyond the HIDTA region into southern California and Arizona.
The Central Valley HIDTA region is one of the most significant cannabis cultivation areas in the United States. (See Table A1 and Table A2 in Appendix A.) According to Central Valley HIDTA officials, cannabis cultivation in the region is increasing, with law enforcement continuing to find and eradicate large-scale outdoor and indoor grows. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program data reveal that eradication statewide in California increased 41 percent from more than 5.3 million plants in 2008 to more than 7.5 million plants in 2009. The Central Valley HIDTA accounted for almost 1.7 million of the plants seized in 2009, approximately 23 percent of all the plants seized statewide. (See Table A1 and Table A2 in Appendix A.)
The optimal climate and growing conditions that support the region's agricultural industry also sustain the highly lucrative illicit outdoor cannabis cultivation operations conducted by Mexican DTOs and, to a lesser extent, Asian criminal groups. The area's diverse migrant worker population, which is necessary for central California's agricultural industry, also provides a heightened degree of anonymity for drug traffickers. Additionally, Mexican DTOs and criminal groups increasingly exploit the remoteness of the region's national forests to conduct large-scale cannabis cultivation operations. (See Figure 2.) According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Los Padres, Sequoia, Shasta-Trinity, and Sierra National Forests consistently rank among the top 10 national forests for eradication of cannabis plants on National Forest System lands.
Figure 2. Cannabis Plants Eradicated in the Central Valley HIDTA, by County, 2009
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration San Francisco Field Division, Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program; California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting.
Operation SOS in Fresno County, California
Operation SOS (Save Our Sierras) was a 3-week mission in Fresno County to eradicate cannabis, investigate cultivation organizations, and restore public and private lands in the area. Operation SOS focused almost entirely on targeting existing grow sites on public lands in Fresno County, which resulted in the eradication of 401,008 cannabis plants and the seizure of 32 weapons, 46.25 pounds of processed marijuana, $40,972 in U.S. currency, and 3 vehicles. In addition, 89 individuals were arrested. In connection with Operation SOS, in September 2009, DEA announced the indictment of a leader of an organization who was responsible for the cultivation of more than 49,000 plants in the Sierra National Forest. According to DEA, the sites had the potential to cause extensive damage to the vegetative resources and the watershed of the Central Valley. This operation was conducted by the Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team, with cooperation from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, California National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities.
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration.
Outdoor cannabis cultivation, particularly on public lands, is causing increasing environmental damage. According to the U.S. Forest Service and California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), law enforcement officers are increasingly encountering contaminated and altered watersheds, the clear-cutting of native vegetation, discarded garbage and nonbiodegradable material, and dumpsites of highly toxic insecticides, chemical repellants, and other poisons. These toxic chemicals enter and contaminate ground water, pollute watersheds, kill fish and other wildlife, and eventually enter residential water supplies. Redirecting natural water sources leads to erosion and impacts native vegetation. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that for every acre of forest planted with cannabis, 10 acres are damaged by these toxic chemicals.
Asian criminal groups also maintain some small-scale outdoor cultivation sites in the region, but unlike Mexican DTOs, they typically cultivate cannabis amidst other, legitimate crops. These groups, primarily Hmong, Laotian, Thai, and Cambodian, often cultivate cannabis plants interspersed with legitimate crops such as strawberries. Many of these individuals work in the local agricultural industry.
The indoor cultivation of cannabis is widespread throughout the HIDTA region; since 2007, law enforcement officials have increasingly been discovering indoor grows. Indoor cannabis cultivators typically use multiple residences, including rental properties, to establish indoor grow operations. They use hydroponic technology, advanced lighting, and irrigation systems. Indoor growers prefer the controlled environment, which allows them to produce high-potency marijuana and avoid law enforcement aerial surveillance and outdoor eradication efforts. They are also able to achieve higher profits from the year-round cultivation season, since a new crop can be harvested every 90 days.
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The Central Valley HIDTA region's proximity to illicit drug sources and its multifaceted transportation infrastructure enable traffickers to transport significant quantities of illicit drugs into the region and throughout the nation. Major highways in the region, such as Interstate 5, provide traffickers with direct access to drug source areas in California, Mexico, and Canada. (See Figure 1.) Methamphetamine and marijuana produced within the HIDTA are regularly transported from the region in private and commercial vehicles, primarily on I-80, to drug markets throughout the United States. Drug traffickers typically use vehicles with complex fabricated compartments that are often welded into body frames, gas tanks, and passenger areas and require several steps to open, using electronic or magnetic switches. Moreover, law enforcement officials in Shasta County report that transporters often use more than one vehicle when moving drugs--one to carry the drugs and another to distract law enforcement.
e. Superlabs are laboratories capable of producing 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine in a single production cycle.
f. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 requires all states to have regulated sellers maintain logbooks and set time-sensitive quantity limits on products containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine. Smurfers typically buy cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine in different stores, often using false or stolen identification, in accordance with the pseudoephedrine limit of 3.6 grams per purchase with a maximum allotment of 9 grams per month.
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