WHERE HAVE ALL THE METH LABS GONE? SOUTH OF THE BORDER
While methamphetamine labs peaked in California in 1999, evidence suggests usage rates have remained flat with local demand now supplied nearly exclusively with high quality ice methamphetamines from Mexico.
Meth remains the top drug-related concern of law enforcement in California, according to a 2007 U.S. Department of Justice poll. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman also considers it his top drug priority.
With few labs remaining in California, law enforcement resources up and down the state have been refocused on the Mexican drug trafficking organizations, which have taken over the wholesale distribution of nearly all illicit drugs throughout the state.
Mexican D.T.O.s now dominate the wholesale distribution of ice or meth, marijuana, cocaine and heroin throughout California, according to federal and state law enforcement agencies. The D.T.O.s then recruit affiliated street gangs Norteno and Sureno as well as outlaw gangs such as the Hells Angels for retail distribution. The trading of marijuana for ice is considered a key element in the distribution of meth within Mendocino County.
Santa Rosa is considered the main transportation hub for meth entering Mendocino and Lake counties. Earlier this year, federal and state agents apparently cracked two cogs in the wholesale distribution system.
In April 2008, 29 pounds of ice methamphetamine was recovered by law enforcement at a Santa Rosa trucking company, along with a small amount of marijuana and cocaine. Earlier, in March 2008, agents confiscated 27 pounds of ice, 69 pounds of marijuana, as well as hashish, cocaine, and $46,000 in cash from an alleged distribution ring bringing meth into the Santa Rosa area from Merced County. Most other area busts have involved much smaller amounts of meth more closely associated with the retail distribution network.
The two main Mexican drug trafficking organizations, according to the U.S. D.O.J., influencing the Mendocino County drug scene are the Federation cartel ( a coalition of the Sinaloa, Juarez, and Valencia cartels ) with prime jurisdiction over the Bay Area and the Tijuana cartel controlling central valley regions around the Sacramento and Stockton areas.
Meth usage is flat:
Methamphetamine usage rates in California have failed to decline despite the state policy change in 2000 requiring court ordered treatment rather than incarceration for most possession cases. The Mendocino County Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs patients being treated primarily for amphetamines increased from 18 percent in 2000 to 27 percent in 2004, with most of the increase coming from court referrals. Throughout California, the trend during the same period was from 26.2 percent to 34 percent. California youth showed a similar increase from 15.8 to 24.7 percent during the same period.
Meth lab numbers have plummeted:
The number of California clandestine labs peaked in 1999 with 2,579 meth labs, with eight in Mendocino County. At that time, California had 80 percent of the country's labs and nearly all of the "super" labs. Nearly one in five labs were found during this period as a result of fires or explosions.
Narrowing restrictions on the raw materials needed to make meth has drastically reduced the number of clandestine labs found during 2007 in California to only 221 reported throughout the state with none in Mendocino County.
While a number of recipes to make methamphetamines exist, all require ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine to begin with.
In the Willits area, one small-scale lab was found at a fugitive's hideout on Sherwood Road in 2008. The fugitive was dodging attempted murder charges in Lake County stemming from an alleged marijuana theft in Willits.
Broken glassware and a quart container partially filled with a caustic material was discovered near a Brooktrails residential marijuana grow late in 2007 that was considered a possible old meth lab site. Mendocino County Environmental Health cleaned it up quickly and the glassware was sent for forensic evaluation.
As the United States tightened the availability of the raw materials needed for meth production at home, first at the wholesale and later at the retail level, the amount of these materials being shipped into Mexico sharply increased, primarily from China. This resulted in most of the tons of pseudoephedrine and ephedrines imported into Mexico being converted directly into high purity methamphetamines or "ice" in "mega labs" according to most estimates. This abundance of "ice" easily supplied the U.S. West Coast market and began making inroads into the eastern states as well.
This creation of an unknown number of "mega" labs apparently caught the Mexican authorities by surprise. A "superlab" in the United States in the heyday of domestic meth production was considered any lab making 10 or more pounds of meth per day. Most labs found by law enforcement in California generated much smaller quantities, with the typical meth user brewing up a batch to supply his or her habit with enough left over to sell so they could buy the next batch of ingredients.
In 2006, Mexican authorities received an anonymous tip about a "mega" lab in Guadalajara, Mexico. The lab was making about 400 pounds of high purity "ice" each day. With Mexico's less restrictive environmental laws, similar meth factories have reportedly sprouted up in a number of industrial areas where they blend in amongst other legitimate chemical plants.
Even the imposition of new import restrictions on precursor chemicals has made little dent into the Mexican production, as the drug cartels are finding ways to circumvent them, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.