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NDIC seal linked to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Texas Drug Threat Assessment
October 2003


Marijuana is a significant drug threat to Texas. Marijuana produced in Mexico is the predominant type available throughout the state. Locally produced marijuana is also available, although to a lesser extent. Cannabis cultivation occurs within the state, primarily in the eastern and northern regions and generally is controlled by Caucasian criminal groups and independent dealers. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of marijuana into Texas; they also dominate the wholesale distribution of the drug. Caucasian, Colombian, and Jamaican criminal groups; local independent dealers; prison gangs; street gangs; and OMGs also distribute marijuana at the wholesale level. Caucasian, African American, Jamaican, and Hispanic criminal groups; local independent dealers; prison gangs; and street gangs are the primary retail-level distributors of marijuana in the state.



Marijuana is available and abused throughout Texas. In response to the NDTS 2002, 74 percent of the 164 law enforcement respondents in Texas who rated the level of marijuana abuse in their jurisdictions reported high levels of abuse, and 22 percent reported medium levels of abuse. Only 4 percent reported low levels of abuse. Despite the high levels of marijuana abuse in the state, combined data from the 1999 and the 2000 NHSDA indicate that the percentage of Texas residents aged 12 and older who reported having abused marijuana at least once in the month prior to the survey (3.4%) was lower than the percentage nationwide (4.8%).

Marijuana abuse in Texas is a concern to treatment providers. According to TCADA, the number of adult treatment admissions for marijuana abuse fluctuated but increased overall from 1998 through 2002. There were 3,057 admissions in 1998, 3,705 in 1999, 3,207 in 2000, 3,643 in 2001, and 4,182 in 2002.

Marijuana abuse by adolescents is of particular concern to law enforcement and health professionals. According to TCADA, marijuana was the primary drug of abuse for 82 percent of the 5,178 youth drug treatment admissions (excluding alcohol) to TCADA-funded facilities in 2002. Moreover, marijuana was reported by seventh- through twelfth-grade students as the most commonly used illicit drug in the state, according to the 2002 Texas School Survey of Substance Use Among Students: Grades 7-12. According to survey responses, the average age of first marijuana use among students in Texas is 13.

The number of marijuana ED mentions in the Dallas metropolitan area fluctuated but increased overall from 1997 to 2001. According to DAWN, there were 916 marijuana ED mentions in 1997, 1,510 in 1998, 1,172 in 1999, 1,225 in 2000, and 1,049 in 2001. The rate of marijuana mentions per 100,000 population in the Dallas metropolitan area (34) was the lowest rate among the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN.

Marijuana commonly is detected in adult male arrestees in Texas. According to ADAM program data for 2001, 32.9 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive for marijuana abuse in Dallas, 26.4 percent tested positive in Laredo, and 40.7 percent tested positive in San Antonio.

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Marijuana is readily available throughout Texas; 98 percent of the 172 law enforcement respondents to the NDTA 2002 in Texas who rated the level of marijuana availability reported that marijuana was readily available in their jurisdictions. Marijuana produced in Mexico is the predominant type available in the state. Marijuana produced in Texas is also available, although to a lesser extent.

Marijuana frequently is seized in Texas, and seizures often involve large quantities of the drug. FDSS data indicate that the quantity of marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officers in Texas increased dramatically from 364,525 kilograms in 1998 to 540,197 in 1999 and 629,886 in 2000. Thereafter, the quantity of marijuana seized declined to 610,828 kilograms in 2000 and 555,324 in 2002. Despite the decline, Texas ranked first nationwide in the amount of marijuana seized by federal officers in 2002. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) According to FDSS data, the total amount of marijuana seized in Texas in 2002 (555,324 kilograms) was greater than the amount seized in the other 49 states combined (approximately 488,000 kilograms).

According to USSC data, in FY2001, 64 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Texas were marijuana-related, compared with 33 percent nationally. Moreover, the number of marijuana-related federal sentences in Texas increased from 1,684 in FY1997 to 2,907 in FY2001.

Marijuana prices vary throughout the state depending on potency, quantities purchased, purchase frequencies, buyer-seller relationships, and transportation costs. According to DEA, during the fourth quarter of FY2002 wholesale prices for commercial-grade marijuana ranged from $450 to $700 per pound in Dallas, $250 to $500 per pound in El Paso, and $300 to $600 per pound in Houston. Retail quantities sold for $10 per gram in Dallas and $4 per gram in El Paso. (Gram prices were not available for Houston.) Sinsemilla sold for $900 to $1,200 per pound at the wholesale level in Dallas. (No other prices for sinsemilla were available.) Marijuana potency also varies throughout the state. According to the Potency Monitoring Project, the average concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for commercial-grade marijuana in Texas was 6.2 percent in 2000. (No other potency information was available.)



Marijuana-related violence occurs periodically in Texas, usually in connection with production or distribution of the drug. Law enforcement officials report that cannabis cultivators sometimes use animal traps, armed guards, explosive devices, and trip wires to secure their production sites. Street gangs that distribute marijuana, such as Asian Pride, commit drive-by shootings, extortion, home invasions, and assaults, some of which likely are related to their marijuana distribution operations.

CBP authorities report that violent confrontations between law enforcement and drug smugglers in the border area have increased. Incidents of smugglers carrying guns also have become increasingly common, according to CBP and EPIC. (See text box.) According to Operation Pipeline/Convoy data, 24 of the 46 weapons seized from drug transporters on Texas highways in 2000 were seized from marijuana transporters.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Wounded by Marijuana Smuggler

On October 12, 2002, a USBP agent was shot in the leg by Mexican marijuana smugglers near Fort Hancock, Texas. The incident began after USBP agents became suspicious of a pickup truck traveling in an area along the U.S.-Mexico border that often is used as a drug smuggling route. The agents pursued the truck for approximately 30 minutes until the smugglers drove the truck into the Rio Grande River and fled on foot through the river into Mexico. When the agents approached the abandoned truck, the smugglers shot at them. The agents returned fire, and during the exchange one of the agents was wounded in the leg. The smugglers then fled farther into Mexico. During a subsequent search authorities discovered 1,901 pounds of marijuana concealed in the cab and bed of the truck.

Source: U.S. Border Patrol (now part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection).

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Marijuana produced in Mexico and Texas is available throughout the state; however, Mexico-produced marijuana is the dominant type. Cannabis is cultivated in the state at indoor and outdoor grow sites. Indoor grow sites are located in every part of the state, while outdoor grow sites primarily are located in the eastern and northern areas of the state. The climate and topography in western and southern Texas are not conducive to outdoor cannabis cultivation. Caucasian criminal groups and independent Caucasian producers are the primary cultivators of cannabis within Texas. Mexican criminal groups and independent Mexican producers also cultivate cannabis in the state, but to a lesser extent. Cannabis cultivators often use dense, forested areas, many of which are in the eastern part of the state, as cultivation sites to avoid detection by law enforcement. These cultivation sites are typically small, containing 30 to 40 plants, well-concealed, and scattered over large areas.

Eradication data indicate that cannabis cultivation in Texas may be increasing. According to the DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP), the number of cannabis plants eradicated by law enforcement officials in Texas decreased from 60,687 in 1999 to 26,433 in 2000, and then increased to 50,110 in 2001. During that period the number of eradicated plants cultivated in outdoor plots decreased from 58,164 in 1999 to 21,759 in 2000, and then increased to 40,133 in 2001. The number of plants seized from indoor grow operations in Texas increased from 2,523 in 1999 to 4,674 in 2000, then to 9,977 in 2001.



Texas is a significant entry point for marijuana smuggled into the United States. EPIC data reflecting drug seizures made within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border indicate that more marijuana was seized in Texas than in any other state along the border from 1999 through 2002. (See Table 6.)

Table 6. Marijuana Seizures Within 150 Miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border, in Pounds, 1999-2002
  1999 2000 2001 2002
Arizona   169,586   197,036   212,229   246,161
California   191,569   230,110   202,046   126,161
New Mexico     35,079     45,209    51,527    37,347
Texas  402,567  459,619   592,771  604,993

Source: El Paso Intelligence Center.

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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of marijuana from Mexico into Texas. They typically smuggle marijuana into Texas across the U.S.-Mexico border through POEs and transport the drug to locations within the state or to drug markets throughout the country. Caucasian independent dealers also smuggle marijuana into Texas, but to a lesser extent.

Marijuana transporters primarily smuggle the drug into and through Texas in private and commercial vehicles. (See text box.) Seizure data indicate that large quantities of marijuana are transported into and through the state via highways. State and local law enforcement officers in Texas reporting to Operations Pipeline/Convoy seized a total of 63,514 kilograms of marijuana from commercial and private vehicles traveling on Texas highways in 2000. Marijuana was, by far, the most frequently seized drug under Operations Pipeline/Convoy.

Large Seizures at Texas POEs

On February 7, 2003, USCS officials in El Paso seized more than 6 tons (12,620 pounds) of marijuana from a tractor-trailer that entered the United States at the Bridge of the Americas. An x-ray inspection revealed discrepancies in a load of wooden pallets in the trailer, and a drug-detection canine alerted to the presence of drugs in the trailer. The marijuana was packaged in cardboard boxes hidden behind the pallets. Two male Mexican nationals from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were arrested in the incident.

The largest marijuana seizure to date at the Laredo POE occurred on January 17, 2003, when USCS officials arrested a Mexican national and seized more than 4.5 tons of marijuana from a tractor-trailer. During an x-ray inspection, examiners noted discrepancies in the truck's cargo that was supposed to be boxes of empty glass containers. The inspectors then searched the trailer with a drug-detecting canine, which alerted to some of the boxes. When inspectors opened the boxes, they discovered 9,331 pounds of marijuana. The driver of the truck, a resident of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, was arrested on federal charges of importation and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

On June 29, 2002, USCS inspectors at the Bridge of Americas commercial cargo facility in El Paso seized a total of 11,803 pounds of marijuana from three tractor-trailers during a 70-minute time frame. In each incident, the marijuana was packaged in numerous small bundles and concealed behind false walls built into the front of the trailers. One trailer contained a total of 4,661 pounds of marijuana, another contained 4,918 pounds, and the third contained 2,224 pounds.

In February 2002 USCS officials in El Paso seized nearly 12,500 pounds of marijuana in one night. More than 2,050 pounds of marijuana were seized from a bus entering the United States from Mexico at the El Paso POE, and more than 10,400 pounds were seized from a private vehicle and a warehouse in the El Paso area.

In January 2002 USBP officials in Falfurrias seized approximately 4,000 pounds of marijuana from two tractor-trailers. Nearly 3,290 pounds were concealed inside a shipment of french fries, and 656 pounds were hidden in a load of bananas.

Sources: U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Border Patrol (now part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection).

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The private and commercial vehicles used to transport marijuana into and through the state often are outfitted with specially designed hidden compartments. Marijuana has been discovered in toolboxes, bumpers, tires and spare tires, gas tanks, engine compartments, and in various other compartments built into vehicles. Marijuana transporters also intermingle the drug with legitimate cargo in trucks, for example among perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables.

Marijuana transporters also smuggle marijuana into Texas using couriers traveling aboard commercial and private aircraft, buses, boats, and passenger trains; couriers traveling between POEs on horses, all-terrain vehicles, and foot; and package delivery services. Operation Jetway data indicate that in 2000, law enforcement officers in Texas seized 11,659 kilograms of marijuana that were transported (or intended for transport) aboard commercial aircraft, buses, trains, or via package delivery services. The largest number of marijuana seizures was from buses (482), followed by 241 seizures from packages, 62 seizures at airports, and 39 seizures from train passengers or luggage.

In addition, Mexican DTOs also smuggle marijuana into the state via coastal freighters and fishing boats. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) seized more than 8,000 pounds of marijuana from an abandoned commercial fishing vessel near South Padre Island in January 2002. USCG also seized more than 1,700 pounds of marijuana near Port Mansfield in February 2002 from a Mexican shark boat that originated from Playa Baghdad, Mexico.

Drug transporters also smuggle marijuana into Texas on freight railcars. In March 2002 USCS agents in Laredo, Texas, seized 1,831 pounds of marijuana from a railcar crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The marijuana was concealed in 25 burlap bags hidden in the car. In December 2002 workers at a paper mill in Louisiana discovered 2,260 pounds of marijuana in a railcar that originated in Mexico City and crossed into the United States at the Laredo POE. The marijuana was packed into 62 bundles and placed in 22 burlap bags that measured 4 feet by 2 feet, weighed at least 100 pounds each, and were camouflaged on the floor of the car. Officials from the West Monroe Metro Narcotics Unit in Louisiana believe the marijuana was destined for a location in southern Texas and, for an unknown reason, was not unloaded at its intended destination.

Mexican DTOs and criminal groups increasingly are using juveniles to smuggle marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2001, 162 juveniles were arrested for smuggling marijuana through the El Paso POE. The number of juvenile arrests has increased each year from 83 in 1997 to 99 in 1998, 148 in 1999, and 155 in 2000.

A large percentage of the marijuana smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas is consolidated in Brownsville, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, McAllen, and San Antonio for later transportation to drug markets in Texas, as well as drug markets in the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast regions of the country. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups commonly transport this marijuana along I-10, I-20, and I-35 en route to destination cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, and Philadelphia. Local independent dealers also transport locally produced marijuana along these routes, but most is intended for distribution in the area in which it is produced.

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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of marijuana throughout Texas. Caucasian, Colombian, and Jamaican criminal groups; local independent dealers; prison gangs; street gangs; and OMGs also distribute marijuana at the wholesale level. Local independent producers generally serve as wholesale distributors of the marijuana they produce within the state.

Caucasian, African American, Jamaican, and Hispanic criminal groups; local independent dealers; prison gangs such as Barrio Azteca and Texas Syndicate; and street gangs including Barrio Denver Harbor and Mara Salvatrucha distribute marijuana at the retail level in Texas. These criminal groups, gangs, and local independent dealers typically are supplied by Mexican criminal groups. However, local independent producers also supply many of these groups, gangs, and independent dealers with locally produced marijuana, generally for retail distribution at or near the area in which the drug was produced.

Marijuana packaging varies depending on the amount distributed. Wholesale quantities are packaged in a variety of materials including cellophane, packaging tape, carbon paper, and plastic wrap. Retail quantities of marijuana commonly are packaged in plastic sandwich bags.

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