In 1970, the federal government passed the Controlled Substances Act. This measure outlawed the use of injectable methamphetamine and sought to stem the use and abuse of meth by cutting off its supply. However, the market for meth did not disappear, and, as is the case with most drugs of abuse once they are made illegal, the supply was simply driven underground. (This is similar to what happened during Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s when the government outlawed the sale and consumption of alcohol. The result was a booming illegal alcohol industry run by powerful mob figures that supplied the millions who continued to drink.)
In the period immediately following the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act, the use of meth decreased. However, illicit (illegal) methamphetamine soon became available on the streets. During the 1970s, meth use was primarily associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs in California. To fill the growing demand for meth, a new, illegal, clandestine industry grew—the meth lab—as the bikers both used and manufactured meth.2, 5 10 In the 1980s, highly organized cartels (organizations that control an entire industry) in Mexico took over the majority of meth manufacture, noting the business opportunity. They built giant warehouse "superlabs" that produced thousands of pounds of meth. These large drug "corporations" set up superlabs in Arizona and California, in addition to Mexico. The recreational use of methamphetamine skyrocketed.11
In the mid-1980s a new smokable form of meth, crystal meth (ice) was introduced to the growing meth market. Created in Asia, this "super-meth" was a much more potent version of meth, and its use quickly spread to Hawaii, and then to the Western states.2
In the late 1980s, these Mexican drug traffickers moved the majority of their meth business to California's Central Valley, setting up superlabs in the deserts and farm labor communities. Meth proved to be a very profitable business, and the December 2, 1989, edition of The Economist noted San Diego, California, had become the "methamphetamine capital of North America."11
These Mexican drug cartels are sophisticated and highly armed organizations; members do not usually take meth— they only sell it. Today, about 65 percent of all meth sold in the United States either is made in Mexico or produced in the United States by Mexican national drug traffickers in superlabs. They use skilled chemists to produce the drug, primarily in its purest form—crystal meth (ice).10, 12
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