Trafficking in drugs refers to commercial activity: the buying and selling of illegal and controlled substances without a permit to do so—a permit that, for example, a physician, pharmacist, or researcher would have. Illegal drugs are those with no currently accepted medical use in the United States, such as heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and marijuana. It is illegal to buy, sell, possess, and use these drugs except for research purposes. Legal drugs are those whose sale, possession, and use as intended are not forbidden by law. The use of legal psychoactive (mood- or mind-altering) drugs that have the potential for abuse, however, is restricted. These drugs, which include narcotics, depressants, and stimulants, are available only with a prescription and are called controlled substances. Drug trafficking includes all commercial activities that are integral to the buying and selling of illegal and controlled substances, including their manufacture, production, preparation, importation, exportation, supply, offering to supply, distribution, or transportation.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR TRAFFICKING
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (PL 91-513) provides penalties for the unlawful trafficking in controlled substances, based on the schedule (rank) of the drug or substance. (See Table 1.2 in Chapter 1 for definitions of the schedules.) Generally, the more dangerous the drug and the larger the quantity involved, the stiffer the penalty. Trafficking of heroin, cocaine, LSD, and phencyclidine (PCP), all Schedule I or II drugs, includes mandatory jail time and fines. A person caught selling at least five hundred grams but less than five kilograms of cocaine powder (seventeen ounces to just under eleven pounds) will receive a minimum of five years in prison and may be fined up to $2 million for a first offense. (See Table 8.1.) The same penalty is imposed for the sale of five to forty-nine grams of cocaine base ("crack"). Five grams are equal to the weight of six plain M&Ms candies, and forty-nine grams are a little more than a bag of M&Ms candies (47.9 grams), or about sixty M&Ms. Legislators have imposed the high penalty for selling crack in an effort to curb the use of this drug.
Following the second offense, penalties double to ten years in prison and up to $4 million in fines. When higher quantities are involved (five or more kilograms of cocaine powder, fifty grams or more of crack, etc.), penalties for the first offense are ten years and fines up to $4 million may be levied. For the second offense, twenty years and up to $8 million in fines are given, and the third offense results in mandatory life imprisonment. These examples are for an individual. Higher penalties apply if an organized group is involved or if a death or injury is associated with the arrest event.
These penalties also apply to the sale of fentanyl (a powerful painkiller medicine) or similar-acting drugs, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and PCP. The smallest amount, which can earn someone a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $2 million, involves trafficking in LSD, where a one-gram amount carries a five-year-minimum sentence in prison.
Punishments for marijuana, hashish, and hashish oil are shown in Table 8.2. Special penalties exist for marijuana trafficking because it may be traded in large quantities or grown in substantial amounts. The lower the amounts sold or the fewer the plants grown, the lower the sentence. A person cultivating one to forty-nine plants or selling less than fifty kilograms of marijuana mixture, ten kilograms or less of hashish, or one kilogram or less of hashish oil may get a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Sentences for second offenses involving large amounts of marijuana may earn the trafficker up to life imprisonment.
|Federal drug trafficking penalties, excluding marijuana|
|Note: Does not include marijuana, hashish, or hash oil.|
|Source: Adapted from "Federal Trafficking Penalties," U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, http://www.dea.gov/agency/penalties.htm (accessed October 19, 2006)|
|Cocaine (Schedule II)|
Cocaine base (Schedule II)
Fentanyl (Schedule II)
Fentanyl analogue (Schedule I)
Heroin (Schedule I)
LSD (Schedule I)
5-49 gms mixture
40-399 gms mixture
10-99 gms mixture
100-999 gms mixture
1-9 gms mixture
|First offense: |
Not less than 5 years, and not more than 40 years. If death or serious injury, not less than 20 or more than life. Fine of not more than $2 million if an individual, $5 million if not an individual
|5 kgs or more|
50 gms or more mixture
400 gms or more mixture
100 gms or more mixture
1kg or more mixture
|First offense: |
Not less than 10 years, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, not less than 20 or more than life. Fine of not more than $4 million if an individual, $10 million if not an individual.
|Methamphetamine (Schedule II)|
PCP (Schedule II)
|5-49 gms pure or 50-499 gms mixture|
10-99 gms pure or 100-999 gms mixture
|Second offense: |
Not less than 10 years, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $4 million if an individual, $10 million if not an individual
|10 gms or more mixture|
50 gms or more pure or 500 gms or more mixture
100 gms or more pure or 1 kg or more mixture
|Second offense: |
Not less than 20 years, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $8 million if an individual, $20 million if not an individual.
|Two or more prior offenses: |
|Other Schedule I & II drugs|
Flunitrazepam (Schedule IV)
1 gm or more
|First offense: Not more than 20 years. If death or serious injury, not less than 20 years, or more than life. Fine $1 million if an individual, $5 million if not an individual.|
Second offense: Not more than 30 years. If death or serious injury, not less than life. Fine $2 million if an individual, $10 million if not an individual.
|Other Schedule III drugs|
Flunitrazepam (Schedule IV)
30 to 999 mgs
|First offense: Not more than 5 years. Fine not more than $250,000 if an individual, $1 million if not an individual.|
Second offense: Not more than 10 years. Fine not more than $500,000 if an individual, $2 million if not an individual.
|All other Schedule IV drugs|
Flunitrazepam (Schedule IV)
Less than 30 mgs
|First offense: Not more than 3 years. Fine not more than $250,000 if an individual, $1 million if not an individual.|
Second offense: Not more than 6 years. Fine not more than $500,000 if an individual, $2 million if not an individual.
|All Schedule V drugs||Any amount||First offense: Not more than 1 year. Fine not more than $100,000 if an individual, $250,000 if not an individual.|
Second offense: Not more than 2 years. Fine not more than $200,000 if an individual, $500,000 if not an individual.
|Federal marijuana trafficking penalties|
|Description||Quantity||1st offense||2nd offense|
|Note: Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance.|
|Source: Adapted from "Federal Trafficking Penalties—Marijuana," U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, http://www.dea.gov/agency/penalties.htm (accessed October 19, 2006)|
|Marijuana||1,000 kg or more mixture; or 1,000 or more plants|
|Marijuana||100 kg to 999 kg mixture; or 100-999 plants|
|Marijuana||More than 10 kgs hashish; 50-99 plants|
|More than 1 kg of hashish oil; 50-99 plants|
|Marijuana||1-49 plants; less than 50 kg mixture|
|10 kg or less|
|Hashish||10 kg or less|
|Hashish oil||1 kg or less|
States have the discretionary power to make their own drug laws. Possession of marijuana may be a misdemeanor in one state but a felony in another. Prison sentences can also vary for the same charges in different states—distribution of five hundred grams of cocaine as a Class C felony may specify ten to fifty years in one state and twenty-four to forty years in another.
Changes in 1990 to the Controlled Substances Act (PL 101-647) led to more than 450 new drug laws in forty-four states and the District of Columbia. Most states follow the model of the Controlled Substances Act and enforce laws that facilitate seizure of drug trafficking profits, specify greater penalties for trafficking, and promote "user accountability" by punishing drug users.
IS THE PROFIT WORTH THE RISK?
Despite the possibility of long prison terms—up to life imprisonment—many drug dealers evidently consider the enormous potential profits of drug trafficking worth the risk. The media often report drug "busts" and indictments of people involved in multimillion- or billion-dollar operations. Paying fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars, becomes part of doing business when the profits are so high.
SUBSTANTIAL WORLD AND U.S. TRADE
In Economic and Social Consequences of Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking (1998, http://www.unodc.org/pdf/technical_series_1998-01-01_1.pdf), the United Nations estimates the total revenue of the world drug trade in 1995 at about $400 billion. The World Drug Report, 2006, Volume 1: Analysis (2006, http://www.unodc.org/pdf/WDR_2006/wdr2006_volume1.pdf) estimates that two hundred million people—approximately 5% of the world's population aged fifteen to sixty-four—were users of illicit drugs in 2006. About half of these two hundred million people used drugs at least once per month. About twenty-five million were addicted to drugs. Of the total population who used drugs in 2006, 162 million used cannabis and thirty-five million used amphetamine-type stimulants, cocaine, and/or opiates.
WORLD PRODUCTION OF PLANT-DERIVED (ORGANIC) DRUGS
In the 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (March 2006, http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/), the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, an element of the U.S. Department of State, reports data on the amount of land cultivated to raise opium poppy, the source of heroin and other opioids; coca leaf, from which cocaine is derived; and cannabis, the hemp plant from which marijuana and hashish are derived. From estimates and observations in the report of the land cultivated, the bureau develops estimates of potential production.
According to the Department of State, the largest amount of cultivated land was dedicated to the production of opium poppy, followed by coca leaf and cannabis. (See Table 8.3.) (Note that because of reporting changes, the 2005 estimate of coca cultivation in Columbia—the biggest producer of coca—is not included in the table, making the 2005 totals for coca cultivation misleading.) In 2004, 166,200 hectares of land were used to grow coca. (A hectare is 2.47 acres.) Opium poppy was cultivated on 256,630 hectares, a sharp increase from the previous year. The largest producer was Afghanistan. During 2004 this country experienced a severe drought; the opium poppy grows well under these conditions, whereas other crops do not. Therefore, farmers grew poppy because little else would grow. Cannabis cultivation, which excludes what is grown domestically in the United States in this tabulation, took place on 5,000 hectares in 2004. Over the seventeen-year period from 1987 to 2004, opium cultivation was higher than coca leaf cultivation in all but six years. Cannabis cultivation is a distant third, reflecting the much lower value of marijuana than of opium, cocaine, and their derivatives.
Data on production of opium gum, coca leaf, and cannabis are shown for recent years in Table 8.4. Production is measured in metric tons (a metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms, or 2,204.6 pounds). The largest tonnage of drug material is coca leaf, followed by cannabis and opium. Results for 2004 are the most recently comparable because Colombia, overwhelmingly the largest producer of coca leaf, has been left unstated in 2005. In 2004, 174,300 metric tons of coca, 17,940 metric tons of cannabis, and 5,476 metric tons of opium gum were produced. Leading producer countries were Colombia for coca, Afghanistan for opium gum, and Mexico for cannabis.
GREATEST DRUG THREAT
The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), in National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006 (January 2006, http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs11/18862/index.htm), surveyed state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide to determine what they believed to be the greatest drug threat in the United States in 2005. For the second year in a row, these agencies identified the synthetic drug methamphetamine as the drug that poses a greater threat to their area than any other drug, rather than any plant-derived drug. (See Figure 8.1.) A close runner-up was cocaine, followed far behind by marijuana, heroin, and illicitly-trafficked pharmaceuticals (prescription drugs).
The NDIC notes in its report that methamphetamine use over the last decade and a half has gradually spread from west to east across the United States. Figure 8.2 shows the progression of the methamphetamine threat from 2003 to 2005. In these three years alone, the threat can be seen moving slowly eastward across the United States.
|Illicit drug cultivation worldwide, by crop and region, 1998–2005|
|*Colombian coca cultivation survey results for 2005 not available at report date.|
|Note: One hectare is slightly less than 2.5 acres.|
|Source: "Worldwide Illicit Drug Cultivation: 1998–2005 (All Figures in Hectares)," in International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 2006, U.S. Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, March 2006, http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/vol1/html/62103.htm (accessed October 19, 2006)|
|Total SW Asia||107,000||209,800||61,000||31,372||1,898||65,025||53,070||44,750|
|Total SE Asia||45,600||40,900||66,030||102,950||130,120||135,040||114,235||160,750|
Methamphetamine ("meth," or "ice" in its crystalline rather than powdered form) is made in laboratories from precursor drugs rather than directly from plant material. The drug was first synthesized in 1919 and has been a factor on the drug market since the 1960s. The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the results of which are published in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (2006, http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k5nsduh/2k5Results.pdf), reveals that 512,000 people were current users of methamphetamine in 2005. In addition, in that year 192,000 people aged twelve and older were first-time users of meth.
Like other synthetics, such as LSD or ecstasy, methamphetamine appeals to large and small criminal enterprises alike because it frees them from dependence on vulnerable crops such as coca or opium poppy. Even a small organization can control the whole process, from manufacture to sale on the street, of methamphetamine. The drug can be made almost anywhere and can generate large profit margins.
Clandestine meth laboratories in the United States are usually operated as temporary facilities. Drug producers make a batch, tear down the lab, and either store the lab and equipment for later use or rebuild it at another site. This constant assembling and disassembling of laboratories is necessary to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.
Ingredients for making meth are lithium from batteries, acetone from paint thinner, lye, and ephedrine/pseudoephedrine. Anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer, can be used to dry the drug and cut the production cycle by ten hours. The process produces ten pounds of toxic waste for every pound of meth. Making meth creates a big stench, forcing producers into remote areas to avoid arousing the suspicion of those living downwind; explosions and fires are also common.
|Potential illicit drug production worldwide, by crop and region, 1998–2005|
|[In metric tons]|
|*Beginning in 2001, USG surveys of Bolivian coca cover the period June to June.|
|Note: One metric ton is approximately 1.1 tons.|
|Source: "Worldwide Potential Illicit Drug Production: 1998–2005 (All Figures in Metric Tons)," in International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 2006, U.S. Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, March 2006, http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/vol1/html/62103.htm (accessed October 19, 2006)|
|Total SW Asia||4,475||5,020||2,865||1,283||79||3,667||2,898||2,406|
|Total SE Asia||408||341||684||829||1,086||1,316||1,247||1,926|
Ephedrine, a stimulant, appetite suppressant, and decongestant, is the key ingredient for making methamphetamine. In 1989 the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act (PL 100-690) gave the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authority to regulate bulk sales of ephedrine, but over-the-counter (without a prescription) sales were not included. As a result, manufacturers simply bought ephedrine at drugstores and then used it to manufacture meth.
The passage of the Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993 (PL 103-200) made it illegal to sell ephedrine over the counter as well, but pseudoephedrine, a substitute, was not included in the ban. Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant and is found in more than one hundred over-the-counter drugs, including Sudafed and Actifed. Manufacturers began using pseudoephedrine to make methamphetamine, often for less than they could with ephedrine. By 2005 a number of states considered and passed legislation placing restrictions on the sale and purchase of over-the-counter medication containing pseudoephedrine. Because of these restrictions on the purchase and sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the drug ephedra is often used as a substitute. Ephedra, also known as ma huang in traditional Chinese medicine, contains both ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
The Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (PL 104-237) made it illegal to knowingly possess ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (called precursor chemicals) and doubled the possible penalty for manufacturing and/or distributing methamphetamine from ten to twenty years. The Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998 (PL 105-277), signed into law as part of the omnibus spending agreement for 1999, further increased penalties for trafficking in meth. Authorities are targeting companies that knowingly supply chemicals essential to methamphetamine producers, domestically and internationally. The importance of controlling precursor chemicals has been established in international treaties and laws.
Importation of Methamphetamine and Its Precursors
Since the precursors ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have become difficult to get in large quantities in the United States, methamphetamine and its precursors now flow into the United States from other countries. According to the National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006, methamphetamine production in the United States is decreasing because of increased law enforcement pressure, public awareness campaigns, and regulation on the sale and use of precursor chemicals. As this downturn has occurred, the synthesis of methamphetamine in Mexico has begun, and the drug is being smuggled into the United States. Mexican sources of methamphetamine appear to be offsetting the reduction in domestic production. Nonetheless, Mexico is training law enforcement teams to investigate and destroy meth labs in their country. Canada is also working with the United States to stem trafficking of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine into and out of the country.
Figure 8.3 shows the countries that produce and export the most ephedrine: India, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Figure 8.4 shows the countries that produce and export the most pseudoephedrine: Germany, India, and China. The United States is working with these countries as well as others to control these shipments of precursor drugs in an effort to stop their diversion from legitimate uses to methamphetamine labs.
Methamphetamine Prices, Purities, and Supply
The prices and purity of illicit drugs play an important role in understanding and analyzing drug markets. The purity of a drug refers to the extent to which it is diluted, or mixed with, other substances. It is a tremendous challenge to determine prices and purities of illicit drugs accurately, because illicit drugs are not sold in standard quantities and are generally sold at varying purities. In addition, data can only be collected from seizures and purchases by undercover agents. Thus, the data gleaned from the samples collected must be used to estimate these factors for the total drug supply for that year.
Table 8.5 shows the average price and purity of methamphetamine from 1981 to 2003. Drug prices fluctuate with supply and demand. As with other products, when supply outpaces demand, the price drops. Conversely, when the demand outpaces supply, the price rises. In addition, the purity of drugs may drop if demand outpaces supply; it is a way for drug traffickers to stretch the drug resources they have.
In 2002 and 2003 the price per gram of methamphetamine was lower at the retail and dealer levels than in any previous year shown in Table 8.5. At the retail level, the price per gram of meth in 1981 was $401.23, more than two-and-a-half times as much as the price per gram in 2003 of $155.61. In addition, the purity of the drug was relatively high in 2002 and 2003. These figures suggest that the supply of meth since the turn of the twenty-first century has outpaced the demand. According to Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2005, Volume 2: College Students and Adults Ages, 19-45 (2006, http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/vol2_2005.pdf) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the demand for meth among nineteen- to twenty-eight-year-olds has remained relatively steady from 1999 to 2005.
|Average price and purity of methamphetamine, 1981–2003|
|Year||Purchases of 10 grams or lessa||Purchases of 10-100 gramsb||Seizures and purchases greater than 500 gramsa|
|Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Purity (%)|
|aQuantities purchased at the "retail" level.|
|bQuantities purchased at the "dealer" level.|
|c2003 data are preliminary, based on first two quarters of data.|
|Source: "Table 46. Average Price and Purity of Methamphetamine in the United States, 1981–2003," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/ndcs06_data_supl/ds_drg_rltd_tbls.pdf (accessed October 19, 2006)|
Distribution of Methamphetamine
According to the DEA and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which coordinates drug control efforts among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, Mexican criminal groups control most of the wholesale distribution of both the powder and ice forms of methamphetamine. These groups supply midlevel distributors, which are often Mexican criminal groups as well. The DEA and the HIDTA believe that Mexican control over the distribution of meth in the United States is likely to increase as more of the drug is produced in Mexican-based labs.
Figure 8.5 shows the influence of drug trafficking organizations in the United States. The Mexican organizations are spread throughout the country. The other drug trafficking organizations shown will be mentioned throughout this chapter.
Production and Distribution
The coca plant, from which cocaine is produced, is grown primarily in the Andean region of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, with Columbia being the largest producer. The first step in the production of cocaine is to mix the coca leaves with sulfuric acid in a plastic-lined hole in the ground. The leaves are then pounded to create an acidic juice. When this juice is filtered and neutralized, it forms a paste. The paste is purified into cocaine base by the addition of more chemicals and filtering. This cocaine base includes coca paste, freebase cocaine, and crack cocaine. It is transported from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to southern Colombia, where it is processed into cocaine hydrochloride (white powder) at clandestine drug laboratories. Small, independent Bolivian and Peruvian trafficking groups also process some cocaine. It takes three hundred to five hundred kilograms of coca leaf to make one kilogram of cocaine.
After processing, the powder is shipped to the United States and Europe. Caribbean and Central American countries serve as transit countries for the shipment of drugs into the United States. Drug traffickers shift routes according to law enforcement and interdiction pressures. In 2004, 90% of the cocaine transported from South America reached the United States through the Mexican-Central American corridor, which has both an eastern Pacific and a western Caribbean component. (See Figure 8.6.) In the eastern Pacific the drugs are smuggled primarily on fishing boats, and in the western Caribbean they are smuggled primarily on go-fast boats. Go-fast boats are small boats, usually piloted by and carrying only one person, onto which drugs have been loaded from larger supplies on a ship.
Once cocaine enters the United States, it is transported throughout the country for distribution. Although cocaine is distributed in nearly every large and midsize city in the United States, principal drug distribution centers exist. They are shown in Figure 8.7.
In 2004 Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups controlled most of the distribution of cocaine in the United States, a recent shift in power and drug control from Colombian drug trafficking organizations. The National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006 notes that the NDIC expected this Mexican increase in control to continue, at least in the short term.
As Figure 8.5 shows, Colombian drug trafficking organizations are most active in the U.S. Northeast and Southeast. Dominican drug trafficking organizations also play a small role in the distribution of cocaine in the United States. However, they are active generally in the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country and work with Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Jamaican drug trafficking organizations work with Colombian drug trafficking organizations and transport multikilogram quantities of cocaine, particularly within the eastern United States.
Cocaine Prices, Purities, and Supply
Price ranges for cocaine and crack from 1981 to 2003 are shown in Table 8.6. The data show that cocaine and crack prices have dropped dramatically since 1981 at the retail and dealer levels. In 1981, for instance, cocaine at the retail level sold for $544.59 per gram. In 2003 the average retail price was $106.54 per gram. Retail crack prices were $341.61 per gram in 1986 and dropped to $189.87 per gram in 2003. The purity of crack, however, has declined over the years while the purity of cocaine has increased.
|Average price and purity of cocaine and crack, 1981–2003|
|Purchases of 2 grams or lessa||Purchases of 10-50 gramsb||Seizures and purchases greater than 750 gramsa||Purchases of 1 gram or lessa||Purchases greater than 15 gramsb|
|Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Purity (%)||Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)|
|aQuantities purchased at the "retail" level.|
|bQuantities purchased at the "dealer" level.|
|c2003 data are preliminary, based on first two quarters of data.|
|Source: "Table 44. Average Price and Purity of Cocaine and Crack in the United States, 1981–2003," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/ndcs06_data_supl/ds_drg_rltd_tbls.pdf (accessed October 19, 2006)|
As Figure 4.3 in Chapter 4 shows, the percent of current users of drugs in general, and cocaine in particular, remained relatively stable from 2002 to 2005. Because demand did not soften during those years, the decreasing prices suggest increased supplies and/or decreased purities. Table 8.6 shows that the purity of cocaine increased in small purchases and remained relatively stable in large purchases. Although the purity of crack dropped from 1986 to 2003, it rose from 2002 to 2003. Authorities believe this rise in purity indicates an increase in supply. However, Table 8.4 does not show increasing coca leaf production between 2002 and 2003 or increasing cultivation.
The National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006 offers a possible answer: "Cocaine supplies appear to be stable at levels necessary to meet current domestic demand, despite record levels of seizures and declines in estimated worldwide production that have been reported over the past few years. This stability in supply could be the result of overproduction through 2002 or a time lag between coca cultivation and cocaine distribution. Time lags in reporting drug availability data also may account for apparent stability in cocaine availability in spite of decreased production and increased seizures." In addition, the NDIC notes that it is extremely difficult to estimate Andean coca cultivation. The NDIC was reviewing these estimates to determine their level of accuracy.
Production, Availability, and Distribution
Marijuana is made from the flowering tops and leaves of the cannabis plant; these are collected, trimmed, dried, and then smoked in a pipe or as a cigarette. Many users smoke "blunts," named after the inexpensive blunt cigars from which they are made. Blunt cigars are approximately five inches long and can be purchased at any store that sells tobacco products. A marijuana blunt is made from the emptied cigar casing, which is then stuffed with marijuana or a marijuana-tobacco mixture. A blunt may contain as much marijuana as six regular marijuana cigarettes. In some cases blunt users add crack cocaine or PCP to the mixture to make it more potent. These are sometimes called "turbos," "woolies," or "woolie blunts."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in Pulse Check: Trends in Drug Abuse (January 2004, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/drugfact/pulsechk/january04/index.html), compiled information from law enforcement and other sources across the country (ninety-seven sources in twenty-five cities). These sources reported that marijuana was readily available in the United States. Domestically grown, Mexican and Canadian grown, hydroponically grown, and the potent seedless marijuana were all available; the domestic variety was the most common.
Domestic growers cultivate cannabis in remote areas to avoid detection by law enforcement agencies. They surround their plots with camouflaging crops such as corn or soybeans. Based on eradication data collected by the DEA, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Hawaii, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Washington and Oregon are the primary domestic marijuana source areas. Indoor cultivation permits year-round production in a variety of settings. Growers may cultivate a dozen or so plants in a closet or operate elaborate, specially constructed (sometimes underground) greenhouses where thousands of plants grow under intense electric lighting or in sunlight. Indoor cultivators often use hydroponics, in which the plants are grown in nutrient solution rather than in soil.
Nondomestically grown marijuana arrives in the continental United States via the southwestern border with Mexico and the northern border with Canada. Mexican drug trafficking organizations control most of the wholesale distribution of marijuana throughout the United States, and marijuana has become their primary source of income. Figure 8.8 shows the estimated revenue for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. They make more money from trafficking in marijuana alone than they do from trafficking in heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine combined.
Although Mexican criminal groups control most of the distribution of marijuana in the United States, Asian criminal groups—primarily Chinese and Vietnamese—are beginning to control distribution of the Canadian-grown drug. The distribution of Asian drug trafficking organizations can be seen in Figure 8.5.
THC Content and Price
The active ingredient in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is most concentrated in the flowering tops (colas or buds) of the cannabis plants. The flowering tops of female plants that have not yet been pollinated and, therefore, have not yet produced seeds have the highest THC content. This plant part is called sinsemilla (literally, "without seed"). In contrast, feral hemp, commonly called ditchweed, contains a low THC content and is generally not a product drug users want.
The DEA notes in Illegal Drug Price/Purity Report (April 2003) that during the 1970s and into the 1980s the THC content of commercial-grade marijuana averaged less than 2%. By 1996 potency had increased to 4.4% for marijuana and 11.3% for sinsemilla in federal seizure samples and to 2.9% for marijuana and 8.9% for sinsemilla in state and local eradication samples. In 2004 potency was even higher in federal seizure samples: 6.8% for marijuana and 14.9% for sinsemilla. Potency was lower, however, in state and local eradication samples: 2.6% for marijuana and 8.3% for sinsemilla. (See Table 8.7.)
THC levels may rise even higher. Marijuana with a THC content of more than 20% has appeared in the Netherlands and Latin America (called "skunk," "skunk-weed," or "nederweed"). Raids in Alaska have also uncovered marijuana with THC content well above 20%. This marijuana is grown by indoor cultivators who focus their efforts on hybridizing, cloning, and growing high-potency marijuana.
The average price of marijuana at the retail level decreased from 1981 to 2003. (See Table 8.8.) In 1981 the retail cost of marijuana was $1,974.49 per gram; by 2003 it had dropped to $361.95. Figure 4.2 in Chapter 4 shows that 54.5% of current drug users use marijuana. Figure 4.3 in Chapter 4 shows that the demand for this drug has decreased slightly from 2003 to 2005. The National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006 suggests that the availability of marijuana will remain high and that the demand will continue to decrease somewhat, resulting in decreasing prices. Thus, authorities expect that drug traffickers will try to expand their customer base.
|Marijuana potency, 1985–2004|
|Year||Federal seizure samples||State and local eradication samples|
|Type of cannabis||All typesc||Type of cannabis||All typesc|
|aThese percentages, indicating potency, are based on simple arithmetic means calculated by dividing the sum of the delta-9 THC concentrations of each sample by the number of seizures and are not normalized by weight of seizure.|
|bNumber of tested samples that yield the potency in prior column.|
|cAll tested samples include a small number of Thai sticks.|
|dPreliminary data through November 8, 2004.|
|Source: "Table 48. Potency of Tested Cannabis from Federal Seizure and State and Local Eradication Samples, by Type, 1985–2004 (Percent Delta-9 THC Concentrations and Number of Samples Tested)," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/ndcs06_data_supl/ds_drg_rltd_tbls.pdf (accessed October 19, 2006). Data from Potency Monitoring Project, Quarterly Report #87. National Center for the Development of Natural Products, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences Eradication, School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi (January 2005).|
|Average price of marijuana, 1981–2003|
|Year||Purchases of 1 gram or lessa||Purchases greater than 10 gramsb||Seizures and purchases greater than 200 gramsa|
|Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Price per pure gram ($)||Purity (%)||Purity (%)|
|aQuantities purchased at the "retail" level.|
|bQuantities purchased at the "dealer" level.|
|c2003 data are preliminary based on first two quarters of data.|
|Source: "Table 47. Average Price of Marijuana in the United States, 1981–2003," in 2005 National Drug Control Strategy: Data Supplement, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy, March 2005, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/ndcs06_data_supl/ds_drg_rltd_tbls.pdf (accessed October 19, 2006)|
Heroin users represent the smallest group using a major drug. According to the NSDUH, there were 136,000 current heroin users in the United States in 2005, and the rate of use was 0.1%. There were no significant changes in the number of current users and the rate of use between 2004 and 2005.
Heroin is a stable commodity for traffickers. In the 2001 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (March 2002, http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2001/rpt/8475.htm), the Department of State sums up the attractiveness of heroin for traffickers:
Though cocaine dominates the U.S. drug scene, heroin is lurking conspicuously in the wings…. [H]eroin … has a special property that appeals to the drug trade's long range planners: as an opiate, it allows many addicts to develop a long-term tolerance to the drug. Where constant cocaine or crack use may kill a regular user in five years, a heroin addiction can last for a decade or more, as long as the addict has access to a regular maintenance "fix." Some can even maintain a facade of normality for many years. This pernicious property of tolerance potentially assures the heroin trade of a long-term customer base of hard-core addicts.
Heroin Production and Distribution
The source of heroin is the opium poppy. After the leaves of the poppy fall off, only the round poppy pods remain. Heroin production begins by scoring the poppy pod with a knife. A gummy substance begins to ooze out. This opium gum is scraped off and collected. The rest of the process is explained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in "From Flowers to Heroin" (July 26, 2006, https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/heroin/flowers _to_ heroin.htm):
Once the opium gum is transported to a refinery, it is converted into morphine, an intermediate product. This conversion is achieved primarily by chemical processes and requires several basic elements and implements. Boiling water is used to dissolve opium gum; 55-gallon drums are used for boiling vessels; and burlap sacks are used to filter and strain liquids. When dried, the morphine resulting from this initial process is pressed into bricks. The conversion of morphine bricks into heroin is also primarily a chemical process. The main chemical used is acetic anhydride, along with sodium carbonate, activated charcoal, chloroform, ethyl alcohol, ether, and acetone. The two most commonly produced heroin varieties are No. 3 heroin, or smoking heroin, and No. 4 heroin, or injectable heroin.
The CIA notes that this generic process produces heroin that may be 90% pure. Variations in the process are introduced as the heroin is diluted to increase its bulk and profits. The pure heroin is mixed with various substances including caffeine, baking soda, powdered milk, and quinine.
OVERVIEW OF THE TRADE
Opium poppies are intensely cultivated in four regions of the world: Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, Mexico, and South America. In 2004 Southwest Asia, primarily Afghanistan, accounted for approximately 92% of known opium gum production. (See Table 8.4.) Afghanistan's production was 3,656 metric tons in 2000, then dropped to 74 tons in 2001 as a consequence of steps taken by the Taliban to suppress the trade. Production went up again to 1,278 metric tons in 2002 after the Taliban fell, and more than doubled to 2,865 metric tons in 2003. In 2004 production rose to 4,950 metric tons—a 73% increase from 2003. Production was down somewhat in 2005 to 4,475 metric tons. A similar pattern is seen in the opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan from 2000 to 2005. (See Figure 8.9.)
The DEA conducts the Heroin Signature Program (HSP). The name of the program comes from the fact that each producing region uses a unique process for deriving heroin from opium, thus the heroin has a unique "signature." Under this program heroin seized by federal authorities is analyzed to determine the purity of the heroin and its origin. In its most recent formal workup of these data, Drug Intelligence Brief: Heroin Signature Program—2002 (March 2004), the agency determined that 80% of all heroin seized in 2002 came from South America, 10% from Southwest Asia, 9% from Mexico, and 1% from Southeast Asia. Although South America and Mexico represent about 3% of opium gum production, these countries supply most of the heroin used in the United States. The National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006 notes that relatively little heroin produced in Afghanistan is distributed in the United States because it is sold, instead, in Asia and Europe. In addition, Colombian and Dominican criminal groups control most of the distribution of heroin in the United States, and they distribute drugs produced in Central and South America.
Mexico produces a variety of heroin called "black tar" because it looks like roofing tar. It was once considered inferior to Colombian and Asian heroin, but it has reached a level of purity high enough so that it can be snorted or smoked. Mexican heroin is targeted almost exclusively to the U.S. market. The long U.S.-Mexican land border provides many opportunities for drug smugglers to cross. Female couriers are used more frequently than males. Mexican heroin is smuggled in cars, trucks, and buses and may also be hidden on or in the body of the smuggler. Many smugglers send their drugs by overnight-package express services.
The bulk of heroin from South America comes from Colombia. Many Colombian coca traffickers have been requiring their dealers to accept a small amount of heroin along with their normal deliveries of coca. This has allowed the Colombian producers to use an existing network to introduce a pure grade of heroin into the U.S. market. Much of the growing Colombian heroin production is sent through Central America and Mexico by smugglers traveling on commercial airline flights into the United States. These smugglers hide the drugs in false-sided luggage, clothing, hollowed-out shoe soles, or inside their bodies. The Colombian-based heroin traffickers have established distribution outlets throughout the eastern half of the United States.
Purity and Price
According to the National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006, the purity of South American heroin decreased from 78% in 2001 to 70% in 2003. Even though the purity of Mexican heroin increased, from 30% in 2001 to 37% in 2003, it is still low. Purity is important to heroin addicts because low-purity heroin must be injected to get the most out of the drug. Many people feel uncomfortable using needles and fear contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, which can be spread by sharing a needle with an infected user. Higher purity heroin can be smoked or snorted, which makes heroin more attractive to potential users who do not want to use needles. Despite these "advantages" of higher purity heroin, an estimated three out of five heroin users continue to inject the drug no matter what its purity.
The ONDCP notes in The Price and Purity of Illicit Drugs: 1981 through the Second Quarter of 2003 (November 2004, http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/price_purity/price_purity.pdf) that heroin purity generally falls into the categories of lower purity (30% to 40%) and higher purity (60% to 75%) depending on the quantity sold. The lower purity is prevalent in purchases of less than one to ten grams. The higher purity is prevalent in purchases of ten to two hundred grams. The ONDCP suggests that higher purity levels at higher quantity levels likely means that heroin is cut when passed between quantity levels, such as between the distributor and the dealer on the street.
The ONDCP report also indicates that both wholesale and retail heroin prices have dropped dramatically since 1981. In 1981 one gram or less of heroin cost about $2,000 retail and more than ten grams cost about $1,000 wholesale. In 2003 the retail price was approximately $350 for one gram or less, and the wholesale price was approximately $150 for more than ten grams. A relative beginner in heroin use will inject between five to ten milligrams of heroin. As such, a gram delivers between one hundred and two hundred doses.
Although the abuse of prescription narcotics, depressants, stimulants, and painkillers exists in the United States, there is little trafficking in these drugs by drug trafficking organizations, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment, 2006. The NDIC notes that those who abuse pharmaceuticals obtain their drugs primarily through theft, forged prescriptions, doctor shopping (seeking out different doctors to prescribe more medications), and fraudulent practices of some physicians and pharmacists. However, if these means of access to prescription drugs become blocked, pharmaceutical distribution networks could arise in the future.