DEA: Homegrown trouble

TEXAS – Over the past several years, most major drug related news features, talk shows and public education programs have focused on the manufacturing, sale and use of methamphetamine or the rapidly growing issue of illegal use or distribution of prescription narcotics. Marijuana is rarely widely reported unless found in conjunction with another illegal drug or activity, except when the amount is enormous, which may lead some to believe the drug is no longer a serious problem. However, information released last week by the Texas Department of Public Safety suggests the marijuana problem beyond serious and in many cases, it’s homegrown. So are a lot of misconceptions.

While law enforcement agencies at every level from city to federal continue to intercept marijuana grown south of the border during transport to points in Texas and beyond, DPS has also documented a record breaking amount of domestic marijuana seized in Texas this year, particularly in the regions of North and East Texas. DPS credits the Domestic Marijuana Eradication (DME) program, which is an annual effort funded by the Drug Enforcement Administration and coordinated by the DPS Criminal Investigations Division, working with federal, state and local agencies.

According to the DPS Criminal Investigations Division, nearly 62,000 marijuana plants have been seized in 2009, compared to 36, 280 plants confiscated in 2008. That number showed a decrease from 2007 when 40, 172 plants were seized.

DPS is investigating the possibility that Texas grown marijuana is the work of Mexican drug traffickers, a theory supported by the fact that many of the growers are found to be undocumented workers living at campsites where they protect and maintain the operations. Many locations shutdown in recent years contained in excess of 10,000 plants and had sophisticated irrigation systems and camouflage preventing their detection by ground and air.

Along with the camouflaged large-scale growing operations, narcotics investigators have to contend with another strategy used by growers who set up shop in average looking homes in middle-class subdivisions, such as the one in Spring that was raided by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit in late April. That residence contained a sophisticated hydroponic growing operation, with high grade marijuana plants in various stages of growth. Unfortunately, the scenario was not unique.

In February, The Montgomery County Pct. 4 Constable’s Office shared a tip with the DEA that led the agencies to a subdivision in Baytown, where together they shut down a $2 million per year hydroponic marijuana operation. Just as in the Spring case, neighbors expressed their shock that such an activity was occurring inside the pristine brick home with its neatly trimmed yard. A marijuana growing ring was shutdown in the Austin area last month, with three separate residences involved, yielding 251 high-grade marijuana plants and over 10 lbs. of harvested product. In early October, another bust in the Austin area took in 643 marijuana plants grown indoors. There are too many similar stories to count.

But the stories don’t end with the grower. The marijuana has to go somewhere. On Friday, the US Drug Enforcement Administration seized 1,500 lbs. of marijuana from an 18-wheeler in Olive Branch, Mississippi. A spokesman for the DEA office in Memphis said the marijuana came from Texas and some of the four suspects involved are Texas residents. That case is still under investigation and not to be confused with the October 21 bust at a Montgomery County truck stop where MCSO SIU K-9, Bianca, led deputies to 3,000 lbs. of marijuana inside a refrigerated 18-wheeler trailer filled with produce.

According to the DEA, marijuana remains the most widely used and easily obtained illegal drug in the US and the only top five illegal drug that is grown on American soil.

A 2007 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 10.3 percent of 8th graders, 24.6 percent of 10th graders and 31.7 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana at least once during the prior year. A 2007 national survey on drug use and health revealed14.4 million Americans ages 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to the survey. About 6,000 people per day in 2007 used marijuana for the first time (2.1 million). Of those, 62.2 percent were under 18.

Marijuana related arrests in Texas*

Possession:

2008 – 70,578
2007 – 71,035
2006 – 65,900
2005 – 61,076
2004 – 62,829

Manufacture / Delivery:

2008: 1,600
2007: 1,901
2006: 1,731
2005: 1,665
2004: 2,124

* Source: DPS Uniform Crime Reporting Data Collection

Did you know?

* The THC content of marijuana has increased steadily since the 1970’s.

* THC is absorbed in fatty tissues and various organs and can be detected by standard urine testing several days after smoking. For heavy users, the period of detection can be weeks.

* Marijuana smoke contains 50–70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke and users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer, thereby increasing the damage.
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* Marijuana smokers can develop the same breathing and upper respiratory problems as cigarette smokers.

* Marijuana increases heart rate by 20–100 percent shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours and include palpitations and arrhythmias, increasing the risk for heart attack.

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