Authorities Consider Marijuana Most Abused Illicit Drug - 8 News NOW

Joint Effort

The Marijuana legalization debate is back in full force around the country. In the face of Colorado's legalization and other states with pending legislation, what does the future hold for the drug in Nevada? The I-Team takes a deep dive into the issues and takes a litmus test on the desire to legalize the drug here.

Authorities Consider Marijuana Most Abused Illicit Drug

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LAS VEGAS -- A national drug threat assessment released in November called marijuana "the most widely available and commonly abused illicit drug in the United States."

The report from the Drug Enforcement Administration stated that marijuana smuggling from Mexico has occurred at high levels over the past 10 years as evidenced by the more than one million kilograms that are seized at the border annually.

There has also been an increase in domestic cultivation, including "the emergence of grow operations in previously uncultivated areas."

"High levels of marijuana availability are matched by high levels of domestic demand," the DEA reported. "According to national-level data, in 2011 more individuals reported having used marijuana in the past year than reported using all other drugs combined. Use of the drug will likely continue to increase over the next decade."

Marijuana also is becoming more potent, according to the agency, with the percentage of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol having increased 37 percent from 2007 to 2011 based on what has been made available for consumption.

The DEA also quoted data showing that the number of marijuana users nationally increased by 21 percent from 2007 to 2011, and that marijuana-related emergency department visits rose 59 percent from 290,565 in 2006 to 461,028 in 2010. Among "illicit" drugs, only cocaine was linked to more emergency room visits in 2010.

Data also showed a decline from 2008 to 2012 in the percentage of 8th, 10th and 12th graders who viewed marijuana use as high-risk behavior.

The DEA concluded that transnational criminal organizations such as those in Mexico and domestic criminal groups "will increasingly exploit the opportunities for marijuana cultivation and trafficking created in states that allow ‘medical marijuana' grows and have legalized marijuana sales and possession. Marijuana abuse levels will increase over the next decade, particularly if its use continues to be increasingly accepted by adolescents."

Excluding border seizures the DEA intercepted 354,023 kilograms of marijuana nationally in 2012. But that volume was down from the peak 723,716 kilograms seized domestically in 2010, the most on record since the agency began posting drug seizure data in 1986.

Separate reports issued by the Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which was created in 2001 to disrupt drug trafficking statewide, also raised concerns about marijuana use. As is the case nationally, law enforcement considers marijuana the most widely available and abused drug in Nevada.

A strategy report issued in 2011 identified indoor marijuana cultivation as a major problem in Southern Nevada, responsible for 37 percent of all marijuana seized in the area in 2009. Additionally, 39 percent of all firearms seized by narcotics detectives came from those operations, and four homicides were linked to those marijuana grow sites in the second half of 2009. Authorities at one grow site seized a grenade launcher.

"The failing economy in Southern Nevada has left hundreds of foreclosed homes on the market that these marijuana DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) have purchased for the purpose of turning the house into grow-operations," the 2011 report stated.

Asian gangs reportedly have become active in indoor cultivation but were not thought to be of significant influence in those endeavors as of 2011. Hispanic gangs, though, were said to be active in the distribution of Mexican marijuana.

"Mexican drug trafficking organizations will continue to supply the majority of available heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine throughout the region," the report stated.

2011 also happened to be the year that Metro Police made its largest number of marijuana-related arrests -- 2,689 -- in the past five years.

A prior report issued in 2010 by Nevada's drug trafficking area program stated that 7,585 individuals were admitted to publicly funded facilities in Nevada for treatment of marijuana or hashish abuse from 2004 through 2008.

According to that report, the anonymity of using parcel services to ship drugs became so popular that law enforcement authorities began seizing more marijuana from those shipments than off of highways. Bulk quantities of drugs are commonly stored in rental storage facilities, homes, retail businesses and warehouses.

The report tied the popularity of indoor grow operations to steady demand from local residents and tourists, and noted that many such operations employed sophisticated hydroponic growing techniques necessary for the cultivation of highly potent marijuana.

The 134 indoor grow sites seized in Nevada in 2009 represented a 644 percent increase from the 18 operations taken down in 2005. The number of confiscated plants skyrocketed accordingly from 1,059 in 2005 to more than 12,000 in 2009.

Metro Police alone busted 108 indoor grow operations in 2009 and seized 12,466 marijuana plants. Those numbers were both topped in 2011 when Metro closed 146 indoor operations and seized 13,003 plants.

"Unlike California, Nevada does not have a significant problem with outdoor marijuana cultivation," the report stated. "Nevada's arid climate and poor soil conditions are not conducive to outdoor cultivation."

Yet authorities have closed down several outdoor operations in Southern Nevada in recent years. More than 15,000 outdoor plants grown by Mexican drug trafficking organizations in Southern Nevada were seized in 2008.

Though the number of outdoor plants seized in 2009 dropped to 2,500, authorities toppled major outdoor grow sites in 2011 in the Spring Mountains. Metro captured seven outdoor grow sites in 2011 and seized a combined 58,762 plants.

One such site in Lovell Canyon yielded more than 9,000 plants, which authorities cut down, bundled up and hoisted by helicopter to waiting trucks. The plants were then destroyed.







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