Drunken driving arrests and binge drinking among teens are down in North Dakota, but drug trafficking by Mexican cartels is soaring in the booming oil patch in the western part of the state, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told lawmakers Tuesday.
“We’re very concerned about what’s happening in western North Dakota,” said Stenehjem, who updated the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee about the status of substance abuse in the state.
Stenehjem said illegal drug cases are on the rise statewide but especially in North Dakota’s oil-producing region, where “enormous amounts of money” has lured drug trafficking organizations with “direct connections to cartels in Mexico.”
Drug cases have become more dangerous for law enforcement because most drug dealers are “armed and organized, with potentially more tendencies toward violence,” he told lawmakers. “The quantity and complexity (of the cases) are bad statewide, but it’s even worse out west. … We need to concentrate on cartels and we are doing that.”
Stenehjem said law enforcement believes “multiple pounds” methamphetamine are being trafficked through the oil patch weekly. Cocaine, heroin and marijuana trafficking also are on the rise.
Much of the high-potency pot is coming from Washington state and Colorado where the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, he said.
Pot from Colorado is especially “potent stuff,” he said.
Stenehjem said the key to battling illegal drug use is “education, enforcement and treatment.”
Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, told Stenehjem that prosecutors and law enforcement have told him funding is lacking for treatment programs in the state.
Stenehjem agreed that there is a need for more drug treatment programs in the state.
“If they don’t get treatment, you’re going to see them again,” Stenehjem said of drug offenders. “They’re coming back.”
Stenehjem’s report to lawmakers wasn’t all gloomy.
DUI arrests also have dropped by several hundred since the state enacted tougher penalties last year, Stenehjem said. The new law requires jail time or community service work for first-time DUI offenders who have a blood alcohol content of 0.16 percent. That’s twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. The law also requires mandatory participation in the so-called 24/7 sobriety program for repeat offenders.
Stenehjem said he’s not ready to tout the new DUI law as “a smashing success” but it appears to have had an impact. The number of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities also is decreasing, he said.
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“There are more people and more people driving more miles and more cops on the road,” Stenehjem said. “Apparently, we’re doing something right.”
The binge drinking rate among North Dakota teens had been among the highest in the nation but now is comparable to the national average, Stenehjem said. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion at least once a month.
Data show the teen binge-drinking rate fell from 41.5 percent in 2001 to 21.9 percent last year. The national average is 20.8 percent.
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