Marijuana is smuggled both ways

Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Marijuana is one drug that is exported from Alaska as well as imported.

Editor's note: This is the third in a three-day series that looks at drug trends in the capital city.

Sunday: IV drugs

Monday: The new problem drugs - Meth and OxyContin

Tuesday: Kids and drugs

Most is grown indoors in the Matanuska-Susitna region north of Anchorage.

"Alaska marijuana holds the national record for THC content," said Zoran Yankovich of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. "Mat-Su bud is known throughout the West Coast. We've seen it exchanged pound for pound for cocaine in L.A. in operations there."

The bud is the flowerbud, the top of the marijuana plant and the part that is smoked. The leaves and stems rarely are used.

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Yankovich said the content of Mat-Su bud has been measured as high as 29 percent. Statistics vary on the THC content in most marijuana smoked today, but a number of studies put it at between 5 percent and 9 percent.

According to the DEA, Alaska is one of the five leading states for indoor cultivation. In 2000, 87 growing operations were busted in Alaska, most in the Mat-Su area. About 12,000 marijuana plants were confiscated and about 30 pounds of pot were seized.

Yankovich said he investigated an operation about 10 years ago in which Alaska pot was traded in the Yakima Valley of Washington for cocaine, which then was sold in Alaska. He said the DEA has found Alaska pot being sold in Hawaii.

"It's prized. It's like a brand name," said Steve Hernandez of the Juneau police.

Hernandez said a few indoor marijuana-growing operations have been found in Juneau, but nothing as major as the operations up north.

"We found a few small ones, 20 to 40 plants," he said. "Nothing this year, but there were a few last year."

According to Sgt. Tim Birt of the Alaska State Troopers, possession of up to a pound of marijuana is a misdemeanor. A quantity greater is a felony. An indication of intent to sell, such as a few ounces of marijuana divided up into gram-size portions, or a equipment such as scales, qualifies as a felony. Possession of 25 plants or more is a felony.

Birt said officers on the streets in Juneau and Southeast typically encounter marijuana on users in gram, eighth-ounce and quarter-ounce quantities. Investigators find larger amounts. A pound of marijuana was seized in Juneau this spring, Birt said. Authorities in Sitka seized eight pounds last summer, and earlier this year authorities in Ketchikan seized 42 pounds of marijuana.

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.



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