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Article Summary

Marijuana Transportation

Mexican DTOs and criminal groups transport marijuana from Mexico to the United States through federal lands in private vehicles, often in quantities greater than 1,000 pounds. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups also employ groups of couriers to travel on foot from Mexico to the United States, carrying marijuana-filled backpacks (50-75 lb) or duffel bags (40-100 lb) through remote areas of federal lands. Once across the border, couriers typically leave the bags in designated areas for subsequent retrieval by another member of the organization already in the United States. USDA Forest Service and DOI reporting indicate that law enforcement personnel patrolling federal lands often discover stash sites containing large quantities of marijuana that likely have been left for subsequent pick up.

Canada-based criminal groups including outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) such as Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC), Asian criminal groups, and independent smugglers often transport marijuana from Canada to the United States through federal lands. Marijuana smuggled from Canada to the United States through federal lands usually is transported by snowmobiles, watercraft, and backpackers traveling on foot. Amounts smuggled range from personal use quantities to 40- to 100-pound quantities concealed in duffel bags.

Seizure data indicate that a significant amount of marijuana is seized each year on NFS and DOI lands, particularly while being transported along the U.S.-Mexico border and, to a much lesser extent, the U.S.-Canada border.

NFS Lands

. Seizures of marijuana on NFS lands increased from 59,733 pounds in 2002 to 71,766 pounds in 2003. Of the 71,766 pounds seized in 2003, 55,144 pounds (77%) were seized along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Forest Service reporting indicates that of the 71,766 pounds of marijuana seized on NFS lands in 2003, most (55,144 lb) was seized on NFS lands in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, the only national forest on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Forest Service reports that most of the marijuana seized in the Coronado National Forest had been smuggled from Mexico by Mexican DTOs.

DOI Lands

. Seizure data indicate that marijuana seizures on federal lands most often occur on lands managed by DOI. The amount of marijuana seized on DOI lands has fluctuated in recent years from 259,314 pounds in 2001, to 447,545 pounds in 2002, to 263,356 pounds in 2003. Of the 263,356 pounds of marijuana seized in 2003 on DOI lands, the largest amount (127,149 lb) was seized on lands managed by FWS, followed by NPS (62,926 lb), BLM (11,697 lb), and BIA (8,449 lb).

Marijuana Seizures in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park in Texas is likely a common transportation area for Mexican DTOs and criminal groups because it is situated in a remote area along the U.S.-Mexico border, is located between the Presidio and Del Rio ports of entry (POEs), and provides a direct connection to Interstate 10 via U.S. Highway 385. The amount of marijuana seized in Big Bend National Park has increased significantly in the past few years. The total of 8,703 pounds of marijuana seized in four incidents detailed below amounts to more than twice the marijuana (3,388 lb) seized during all of 2001.

On December 15, 2002, U.S. Customs Service (USCS) agents observed two pickup trucks crossing into the park from Mexico at a remote low-water border crossing area and alerted NPS rangers and state and local law enforcement authorities. After the trucks traveled to Study Butte and the drivers transferred large bundles of marijuana to an awaiting tractor-trailer, officers arrested the occupants and seized 1,608 pounds of marijuana.

On December 23, 2002, NPS rangers and USBP agents seized 1,023 pounds of marijuana and arrested two individuals after stopping a pickup truck that appeared to be avoiding a border checkpoint by traveling on private roads. Officers discovered 420 bundles of marijuana in the extended cab area of the pickup.

On January 3, 2003, a park ranger stopped a pickup truck as it was leaving the park. The operator of the vehicle was unable to produce a driver's license and admitted to the ranger that he was transporting marijuana. A subsequent search with the assistance of USBP agents revealed 2,854 pounds of marijuana concealed inside the truck bed, toolbox, and rear seat and in large plastic barrels on the bed of the truck. In another incident on the same day, rangers discovered an abandoned pickup with 3,218 pounds of marijuana concealed in the same manner.

Source: National Park Service Ranger Activities Division.

Cannabis cultivation by Mexican DTOs on federal lands likely will increase despite the considerable efforts of the Forest Service and DOI. The Forest Service reports that DTOs have increased the size and scope of their cannabis cultivation operations on NFS lands to include a greater number of large cannabis grow plots and irrigation systems and have increased security measures. For example, California Department of Justice officials report that under the state's CAMP program, law enforcement officers seized a record 466,054 cannabis plants in 182 raids in 32 counties during FY2003 eradication season (July through October). Seventy-five percent of the plants seized were growing on public lands, and 84 percent, according to law enforcement sources, came from grow sites operated by Mexican DTOs. Twelve grows contained more than 10,000 plants each. Furthermore, CAMP reporting indicates that the percentage of plants seized from grows operated by Mexican DTOs increased from 69 percent in FY2001, to 74 percent in FY2002, to 84 percent in FY2003. In addition, officials report a significant increase in the number of plants cultivated in large cannabis grows, which typically are operated by Mexican DTOs.

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