Tag Archives: DEA

No surprise: After legalization, illegal pot sales boom in California

As reported by Thomas Fuller for the NY Times (via SF Gate): In the forests of Northern California, raids by law enforcement officials continue to uncover illicit marijuana farms. In Southern California, hundreds of illegal delivery services and pot dispensaries, some of them registered as churches, serve a steady stream of customers. And in Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, the sheriff’s office recently raided an illegal cannabis production facility that was processing 500 pounds of marijuana a day.

It’s been a little more than a year since California legalized marijuana — the largest such experiment in the United States — but law enforcement officials say the unlicensed, illegal market is still thriving and in some areas has even expanded. “There’s a lot of money to be made in the black market,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman, whose deputies seized cannabis oil worth more than $5 million in early April.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared that illegal grows in Northern California “are getting worse, not better” and two months ago redeployed a contingent of National Guard troops stationed on the border with Mexico to go after illegal cannabis farms instead.

Stepped-up enforcement comes with a certain measure of irony — legalization was meant to open a new chapter for the state, free from the legacy of heavy policing and incarceration for minor infractions. Instead, there are new calls for a crackdown on illegal selling.

Conscious of the consequences that the war on drugs had on black and Latino communities, cities like Los Angeles say they are wary of using criminal enforcement measures to police the illegal market and are unsure how to navigate this uncharted era.

The struggles of the licensed pot market in California are distinct from the experience of other states that have legalized cannabis in recent years. Sales in Colorado, Oregon and Washington grew well above 50 percent for each of the first three years of legalization, although Oregon now also has a large glut of pot.

But no other state has an illegal market on the scale of California’s, and those illicit sales are cannibalizing the revenue of licensed businesses and, in some cases, experts say, forcing them out of business.

Entrepreneurs in the industry, which spent decades evading the law, are now turning to the law to demand the prosecution of unlicensed pot businesses. “We are the taxpayers — no one else should be operating,” said Robert Taft, whose licensed cannabis business in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, has seen sales drop in recent months.

“This is starting to get ridiculous,” he said of the illegal pot shops, including nearby businesses that list themselves as churches and advertise marijuana as a kind of sacrament. “It’s almost like the state is setting itself up to lose.”

California gives cities wide latitude to regulate cannabis, resulting in a confusing patchwork of regulations. Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego have laws allowing cannabis businesses, but most smaller cities and towns in the state do not — 80% of California’s nearly 500 municipalities do not allow retail marijuana businesses. The ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana passed in 2016 with 57% approval, but that relatively broad support has not translated to the local level. Cities like Compton or Laguna Beach decisively rejected allowing pot shops.

Regulators cite this tepid embrace by California municipalities as one of many reasons for the state’s persistent and pervasive illegal market. Only 620 cannabis shops have been licensed in California so far. Colorado, with a population one-sixth the size of California, has 562 licensed recreational marijuana stores.

But the more fundamental reason for the strength of the black market in California — and what sets the state apart from others — is the huge surplus of pot. Since medical marijuana was made legal in California more than two decades ago, the cannabis industry flourished with minimal oversight. Now many cannabis businesses are reluctant to go through the cumbersome and costly process to obtain the licenses that became mandatory last year.

Of the roughly 14 million pounds of marijuana grown in California annually, only a fraction — less than 20% according to state estimates and a private research firm — is consumed in California. The rest seeps out across the country illicitly, through the mail, express delivery services, private vehicles and small aircraft that ply trafficking routes that have existed for decades.

This illicit trade has been strengthened by the increasing popularity of vaping, cannabis-infused candies, tinctures and other derivative products. Vape cartridges are much easier to carry and conceal than bags of raw cannabis. And the monetary incentives of trafficking also remain powerful: The price of cannabis products in places like Illinois, New York or Connecticut are typically many times higher than in California.

The state’s illicit cannabis exports appear to be increasing even now, well into California’s second year of legalization. New Frontier Data, a data research company that specializes in cannabis, calculates that high demand and more advanced growing techniques will contribute to approximately half a million pounds more illicit cannabis this year compared with 2018.

The federal government still considers marijuana illegal, and the Drug Enforcement Administration says it still investigates marijuana-related crimes. But a spokesman, Rusty Payne, said the agency has a bigger crisis to attend to.

“We’ve got our hands full with the opioid epidemic to be honest,” Payne said. In wildland areas, seizures of illicit pot by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife more than doubled in 2018, the first year that recreational cannabis was legal.

The department destroyed 1.6 million marijuana plants in 2018, up from 700,000 in 2017 and 800,000 the year before — all of them illegally grown.

“There’s a subset of people who are just refusing to get into the process,” said Nathaniel Arnold, the department’s deputy chief of enforcement.

Read the whole story here.

DCG

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Find out if you live near a meth lab

Methamphetamine is a potent and addictive central nervous system stimulant, chemically related to amphetamine, but with greater central nervous system side effects. It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. It is classified as a Schedule II stimulant by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which means it has a high potential for abuse and is available legally only by prescription. Methamphetamine, when abused, is commonly referred to as “speed”, “meth”, or “chalk” and has been in use since the early 1960s. When abused, methamphetamine is usually smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally.

Meth prompted massive national concern in the early 2000s. In 2006 in an attempt to stem the tide of meth, Congress regulated the sale of meth’s precursor ingredients. But meth has made a resurgence nationwide, being more potent and far more affordable — a shift DEA officials attribute to Mexican cartel production on an unprecedented scale.

Unlike other drugs, the production of which entails some agricultural element (e.g., poppy, cocoa) or utilizes vast tracts of land (e.g., marijuana), meth can be made using inexpensive chemicals found in over-the-counter medications. Meth, therefore, lends itself to clandestine manufacture inside inconspicuous buildings. Meth labs have been discovered in every state, sometimes because an error in the “cooking” process produces a deadly explosion. But in many cases, neighbors are completely unaware that they live near a current or former meth lab.

To track the geographical and chronological trends of meth’s resurgence, Rehabs.com — a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, a leading provider of residential and outpatient addiction treatment services — undertook a study of DEA (National Clandestine Laboratory Register and Drug Seizure Database) data on the production and distribution of meth. Combing through 29,746 records of clandestine meth labs the DEA found from 2007 through 2016, Rehabs.com has produced a national map of meth labs to enable you to learn whether a meth lab is/was located close to your own home.

Although no state is entirely unaffected by meth’s presence, certain states are manufacturing hubs. The top 5 states in the number of meth labs are:

  1. Missouri is the meth capital of America, with 27.6 meth labs per 100,000 residents.
  2. Arkansas, with 24.7 meth labs per 100,000 residents.
  3. Oklahoma: 23.7 meth labs per 100,000 residents.
  4. Mississippi: 21.2 meth labs per 100,000 residents.
  5. Indiana: 20.1 meth labs per 100,000 residents.

States also differ in the potency of the meth seized:

  • Nevada had the highest degree of purity or potency of meth, which could explain why Nevada leads the nation in deaths resulting from the use of stimulants.
  • Maine had the next most potent meth, which has led lawmakers to consider requiring a prescription to purchase cold medicine containing precursor meth ingredients.
  • Arizona possesses a deadly mix of meth quantity and potency, ranking first for average seizure size and fourth for potency.

Rehabs.com has an interactive map for you to find out if you live near a meth lab:

  • Click here or go to: https://www.rehabs.com/explore/neighborhood-drug-dens/
  • Type your address in the “search box” of the map, “Do You Live Near A Meth Lab?”.
  • Hit “enter”.

I got this when I entered my address, which I had thought to be a safe neighborhood:

The address you entered is 2.49 miles from a location that has been used as a clandestine laboratory.

Yikes!!!

~Eowyn

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