Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2007
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2007 Helena Independent Record
Author: Angela Brandt


HAVRE - Just as cocaine originates only in South America, the potent 
marijuana known as "B.C. bud" is grown only in British Columbia.

Demand for the two illicit drugs creates a steady crossover at the 
U.S.-Canadian border.

In the past, the typical barter involved a pound of the Canadian 
cannabis for an ounce of cocaine, but the exchange rate fluctuates 
drastically, Havre Police Chief George Tate said.

Havre, a north-central Montana border town of about 10,000, sees its 
share of marijuana trafficking. About 75 percent of that is B.C. bud, 
said Havre Police Lt. Jerry Nystrom, who is the Tri-Agency Safe 
Trails Task Force team leader.

"Bud is everywhere. It's like buying a cup of coffee," Nystrom said.

The Canadian pot is desirable because the growers control the 
genetics on their highly potent strains with a monopoly on the seeds. 
Growers are constantly experimenting to raise the potency of the 
marijuana, Nystrom said.

"They use the same principles as cattle - selected breeding for the 
best quality," he added.

The plants are hydroponically grown in a controlled atmosphere to 
have a high content of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active 
chemical in cannabis.

According to Nystrom, the past year has seen a dramatic decrease in 
the trafficking of methamphetamine, but marijuana and cocaine 
smuggling also has increased immensely.

Methamphetamine, cooked in Mexico and in the U.S., has been traded 
for B.C. bud, but cocaine is more popular north of the border, he added.

"Cocaine is big in Canada and meth is seen as a dirty drug," Tate said.

While Mexican marijuana, which captures the remaining 25 percent of 
the marijuana market along six counties the Tri-Agency Safe Trails 
Task Force covers, goes for about $800 to $1,500 per pound, the B.C. 
bud sells for an average of $4,000 to $5,000 a pound, Nystrom said.

The task force oversees Hill County, home of Havre, along with 
Phillips, Liberty and Blaine counties, which all border Canada. It 
also covers Judith Basin and Chouteau counties in addition to the 
Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.

Havre is the hub of drug trafficking in the area, with two 
international ports of entry about 40 miles north of town, Nystrom said.

A study released by the National Drug Intelligence Center in June 
said the Rocky Mountain region, which includes 34 counties in 
Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is susceptible to trafficking 
because it is sandwiched between two major drug sources - Mexico and Canada.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area drug market 
analysis includes Lewis and Clark, Cascade, Yellowstone, Missoula and 
Flathead counties.

"Marijuana is the most abused illicit drug in the Rocky Mountain 
HIDTA region. Commercial-grade marijuana is the primary type abused 
in the region; however, the abuse of high-potency marijuana has 
increased dramatically, particularly among Caucasian abusers who have 
disposable income and are willing to pay higher prices for the drug," 
the analysis stated.

Asian traffickers, organized motorcycle gangs, and Caucasian criminal 
groups, based in British Columbia and Alberta, use Interstates 15 and 
90 to transport B.C. bud across the border through Washington and 
western Montana in private and commercial vehicles, noted the market analysis.

After criminal groups have delivered marijuana shipments in the U.S., 
"they sometimes accept powder cocaine as payment, subsequently 
smuggling the drug into Canada," according to the report.

"As a result, kilogram quantities of cocaine are often seized by law 
enforcement officers at Coutts, Alberta, across the border from the 
Sweetgrass (point of entry)," the analysis said.

Marijuana is the most popular drug in Nystrom's six-county 
jurisdiction, with methamphetamine ranking second.

Between July 1, 2006, and the end of June 2007, task force agents 
confiscated 1,830 grams of marijuana, the majority of that being B.C. 
bud. In that same time, 1,054 grams of methamphetamine and 70 grams 
of cocaine also were seized.

Nystrom said the task force culls its information mainly through 
surveillance, undercover agents and tips from anonymous sources, 
confidential informants and other agencies.

Generally, agents work through the "steps of the ladder" from dealer 
to grower or producer or vice versa, depending on whom they bust first.

Task force investigations have led to 115 arrests in the 12-month 
span and 32 search warrants. Of those arrests, 40 people were 
associated with the importation, distribution or manufacture of 
controlled substances.

While prescription medications were a popular item smuggled from 
Canada in the past, American abusers are now looking to sources closer to home.

"Dopers are lazy. If there's a loophole, they'll find it," Nystrom said.

Drug seekers write bogus prescriptions from their favorites including 
Xanax and Hydrocodone and go on road trips hitting every pharmacy 
along the way in the quest for pills, he said. They also buy 
medication from people who have legitimate prescriptions.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart