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Sunday, October 16, 2011
Feds: Medical Marijuana Laws and Hawaii County Council Drive Growth in Drug Trade
By Selected News Articles @ 5:30 PM :: 7380 Views :: Hawaii County , Akaka Bill, Energy, Environment

Excerpts from Drug Market Analysis 2010 released October, 2011 by the Office of National Drug Control Policy

Drug Threat Overview

…Ice methamphetamine trafficking and abuse pose the most significant drug threat to the Hawaii HIDTA region because of high levels of abuse and the drug’s association with much of the violent and property crime in Hawaii. Methamphetamine is identified more often than any other drug, including alcohol, as the primary substance of abuse for treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Hawaii. Four of the five state and local law enforcement agencies in the region that responded to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2010d identify methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat to their jurisdictions.

Mexican DTOs are expanding their methamphetamine distribution operations into the region, leading to increased availability and lower wholesale-level prices, which decreased from $25,000–$50,000 per pound in 2008 to $28,000–$42,000 per pound in 2009. HIDTA law enforcement officers seized more than 245 pounds of ice methamphetamine in 2009, a significant increase from the 90 pounds seized in 2008. Most of the ice methamphetamine available in the area is smuggled from Mexico via the mainland’s West Coast and from traditional production areas in California.

High-potency d-methamphetaminee is the predominant type of the drug available in Hawaii; however, HIDTA officials reported several seizures of lower-potency d,l-methamphetaminef in 2009, particularly on the Big Island.

Illicit cannabis cultivation along with marijuana trafficking are significant and ever-present drug threats to the region. Illegal cannabis cultivation operations are pervasive throughout the Hawaii HIDTA region, particularly on the Big Island and Maui. This situation is driven by the growing demand for high-potency marijuana, high levels of abuse, and the continued exploitation of Hawaii’s medical marijuana laws by illegal marijuana producers and drug traffickers.

Current illicit cannabis cultivation is unable to meet rising demand for high-potency marijuana, and HIDTA officials report that increasing amounts of the drug are produced in California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada and regularly transported into the region by Mexican and Asian DTOs and local Pacific Islander and Caucasian criminal groups. In 2009, HIDTA law enforcement officers eradicated nearly 65,000 pounds of marijuana with an estimated wholesale market value of more than $311 million.

Funding and operating limitations placed on cannabis eradication programs, particularly on the Big Island, have resulted in an overall decrease in the number of plants seized from outdoor grows. The number of outdoor plants eradicated in the state fell from 131,355 in 2007 to 102,398 in 2008 and 47,159 in 2009. This situation has prompted illicit growers relocating from the West Coast of the U.S. mainland and local independent growers to establish more cultivation sites in Hawaii. These individuals perceive that Hawaii has marijuana-friendly laws, resulting in a low risk of prosecution for illicit cannabis cultivation.

The availability and abuse of other illicit drugs and controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) vary throughout the Hawaii HIDTA region. Mexican polydrug organizations and criminal groups supply multipound quantities of black tar heroin and powder cocaine to the area. Powder and crack cocaine are available on Oahu, primarily in the Chinatown area. Crack cocaine is converted on a limited basis at or near distribution sites on an as-needed basis, typically in ounce quantities, by local street-level distributors. Powder cocaine is more frequently sold and abused on other islands, including the Big Island and Maui. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) is distributed primarily in nightclubs within the Waikiki district of Honolulu by Asian criminal groups and street gangs. The drug is also distributed at electronic music festivals and raves. Over the last year, HIDTA officials reported several incidents involving the abuse of other drugs, including the hallucinogen Salvia divinorum, synthetic cannabinoids commonly referred to as “K2” and “Spice,” and mephedrone, also known as 4-MMC. CPDs are most easily and frequently obtained locally from unscrupulous physicians and pharmacies that prescribe and dispense large quantities of these drugs to customers who have no legitimate need. CPD abuse typically involves prescription opioids, primarily oxycodones, and crosses all demographic categories.

Production

Outdoor cannabis cultivation is widespread throughout the state and continues to occur at high levels. The number of outdoor plants eradicated in the state fell from 131,355 in 2007 to 102,398 in 2008 and 47,159 in 2009. These decreases are largely attributed to constraints placed upon law enforcement eradication efforts, particularly on the Big Island.

The Hawaiian Islands are one of the principal cannabis cultivation and marijuana production areas in the nation. Cannabis has been cultivated outdoors in Hawaii for decades because the tropical climate is conducive to year round cultivation. Cannabis grown outdoors in Hawaii contains some of the highest THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in the nation because of the optimal growing conditions, nutrient- and mineral-rich volcanic soil, and advances in hybridization techniques. Law enforcement reporting indicates that most outdoor cannabis cultivation takes place on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, particularly in areas controlled by the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources in Hawaii and Maui Counties.

Cannabis Eradication on the Big Island

In May 2008, the Hawaii County Council on the Big Island voted not to accept federal funding from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) for state and local law enforcement aerial surveillance and eradication. The council cited complaints from many residents who reportedly opposed the program because low-flying helicopter missions would violate their privacy and disrupt rural life. The Council also established a county ordinance (Hawaii County Code, Section 14, Article 16) making cannabis the lowest drug priority for law enforcement officersConsequently, state and local law enforcement agencies have been severely constrained in their efforts to effectively monitor and remove illicit grows.

Indoor cannabis cultivation persists in Hawaii because growers can control conditions to produce high-potency marijuana, which commands premium prices in most drug markets. Indoor cannabis cultivators typically use advanced growing techniques that include lighting, irrigation systems, chemical fertilizers, and plant cloning. Indoor grow sites typically average fewer plants than outdoor grows and range in size from a single closet to entire houses or larger buildings that are converted into advanced grow operations.

Annual seizures of indoor cannabis plants in Hawaii have varied greatly over the past 5 years, ranging from a low of 373 in 2008 to a high of 12,358 in 2006. Caucasian and Asian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary producers of high-potency marijuana from indoor cannabis cultivation sites.

Law enforcement officials have reported an influx of criminal groups and independent growers from the West Coast who are relocating to Hawaii to establish illicit cannabis cultivation operations at both outdoor and indoor grows. These growers are motivated by the greater profits associated with high-potency marijuana and the misguided perception that there is minimal risk of detection and prosecution for illegally cultivating cannabis in the state because of reduced eradication efforts and the widespread abuse of state medical marijuana laws.

Law enforcement officials report that they often find medical marijuana certificates while serving search and arrest warrants but seize far greater amounts of marijuana than allowed by law, in addition to other illicit drugs and weapons….

Outlook

Hawaii has strategic drug trafficking and marketing significance for Mexican DTOs because it provides these organizations with a gateway to other markets in the Pacific. NDIC analysts expect Mexican DTOs’ dominance over wholesale ice methamphetamine, cocaine, and black tar heroin distribution in the region to remain unchallenged. The trafficking and abuse of ice methamphetamine will remain the most significant drug threat to the HIDTA region. Asian DTOs and criminal groups will expand their influence and operations in the region, particularly the smuggling and distribution of high-potency marijuana and MDMA. The Hawaii HIDTA region will remain one of the most significant cannabis cultivation and marijuana production areas in the nation.

The demand for high-potency marijuana in the region is increasing, and there are no indications that this will change in the near term. Increased cultivation will be supported by a greater number of criminal groups and independent growers from the West Coast relocating to Hawaii to establish illicit cannabis cultivation operations at both outdoor and indoor grows, particularly on the Big Island. Public lands in remote areas of the region will increasingly be used by local criminal groups and independent dealers for outdoor cultivation. Illegal cannabis cultivators will increasingly exploit state medical marijuana laws to conduct and expand their illicit cultivation and distribution operations….

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FULL TEXT: www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs40/40387/40387p.pdf

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