Drug Threat Growing in Northwest, White House Says

Drug Threat Growing in Northwest, White House Says
Posted by FoM on December 16, 1999 at 06:39:51 PT
By Les Blumenthal, Nando Washington Bureau 
Source: Nando Times
From Mexican black tar heroin coming up Interstate 5 to potent "B.C. buds" crossing the Canadian border and "Nazi" meth labs in Pierce and other counties, a report released Wednesday by the White House drug office describes a complicated and growing threat from drugs in Washington state. 
And while the director of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program in Washington state said law enforcement agencies haven't been overwhelmed by the increasing drug trade, they are hard pressed to stem the flow. "I wouldn't say we are winning," said Dave Rodriguez, who heads the program. "But we are much better organized, we're doing multi-jurisdictional task forces and have better communication. That's progress." The White House report, which reviewed the HIDTA program in Washington state and in 30 other areas nationwide, concluded the region "faces many drug manufacturing and trafficking challenges." Mexican black tar heroin supplies, imported up the I-5 corridor, remain at "high levels" and led to a record number of heroin overdoses last year in King County, the report said. Black tar heroin remains the heroin of choice among the state's addicts, and its use led to 144 deaths in King County in 1998, up sharply from 111 in 1997. The report said the number of methamphetamine labs dismantled by police this year in Washington state could reach a record level. Small labs, known as Nazi labs because the technique for producing methamphetamine was pioneered by the Nazis during World War II, are "proliferating in apartments, motels and vans." "Projections are that nearly 500 labs will be dismantled by year's end creating a tremendous drain on law enforcement and environmental cleanup agencies," the report said. Rodriguez said Pierce County has been a hotbed of methamphetamine production and ranks third nationally behind Bakersfield and Riverside counties in California in the number of labs busted by police. Despite the record number of labs broken up by police, Rodriguez said he was concerned about indications that larger meth labs designed to produce quantities suitable for national distribution may be appearing in Washington state. One such lab was recently dismantled in the Yakima Valley, and two others were busted up in Oregon, he said. The smaller labs usually found in the state can produce anywhere from two ounces to eight ounces of meth in each run. A national-sized lab can "cook" 50 pounds at a time, Rodriguez said. As for marijuana, the White House report said there had been a "dramatic increase" in the importation of Canadian grown marijuana and cross border smuggling. Rodriguez said the marijuana, known as "B.C. buds," was extremely potent and sells in Seattle for $3,000 to $4,000 a pound and in California for up to $6,000 a pound. Mexican marijuana sells on the street for about $600 to $900 a pound, he said. Canadian law enforcement officials have estimated the marijuana is being grown indoors at more than 2,400 sites in British Columbia, Rodriguez said, adding that each plant can produce more than three pounds of the high-quality drug. The White House report said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have estimated annual marijuana production in Canada at more than 800 tons and that Italian- and Asian-based gangs made more than $12 billion from its sale. In addition, the report said the "Hells Angel Outlaw Motorcycle gang is smuggling marijuana into the United States and it crosses nearly all land border points." So-called "mother ships" carrying tons of marijuana have also been found in Northwest waters. Last year, Rodriguez said, three vessels carrying 14 tons of hashish were caught off the British Columbia in a case that originated in Pierce County. Even sea kayaks have been used to smuggle marijuana across the border from Canada into the United States, he said. The ports of Tacoma and Seattle may also be important entry points for illegal drugs, the White House report said. "Although limited data exists at the current time, it is believed that large shipments of Asian heroin may transit through Puget Sound ports with ultimate distribution in U.S. cities on the eastern seaboard," the report said. Rodriguez said it would be impossible to check the several million containers than are shipped through Puget Sound ports annually, but law enforcement officials have developed profiles of ones they want to open based on the container's place of origin and what its manifest says it contains. "If someone is sending salmon to the Northwest, it would raise some eyebrows," he said. Overall, the report said, law enforcement agencies have identified 60 drug trafficking organizations posing a criminal threat in the state's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Created in 1997, the state's HIDTA covers seven counties, including Pierce, King, Snohomish, Thurston, Skagit, Whatcom and Yakima. With $4 million in funding, it helps coordinate law enforcement activities, sharing intelligence information and other support services with almost 40 federal, state and local agencies including the Pierce County Sheriff's Office and the Tacoma Police Department. "It's a way to bring everyone under one umbrella," said Rodriguez, who was in Washington, D.C., for a conference of HIDTA officials from around the country. The 31 areas nationwide designated as HIDTAs were selected not just because of the flow of drugs into their communities, but because the drugs were also transhipped elsewhere. The program has become one of the foundations of the White House's war on drugs. "This report gives you some insight into the perils they (law enforcement) are facing," Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, said at a news conference. While five years ago the emphasis was on cocaine and crack, McCaffrey said, the drug trade has changed with heroin, meth and such designer drugs as Ecstacy now having top priority. "The threats change," he said. Published: December 16, 1999Copyright  1999 Nando MediaRelated Article:Midwest Meth Seizures Expose Rural Drug Epidemic - 12/15/99
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