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Over $150 For a Gram of Meth? LAPD’s Estimates For Drugs Seized During Raids Are Questionable

Law enforcement agencies are notorious for inflating the valuations of drugs, in order to bolster their crime fighting images and justify the “war on drugs.” They achieve this by using the "street value" of a drug rather than a wholesale value.

Screenshot from LAPD Assistant Commander Lillian Carranza’s Twitter

According to an LAPD street drug price list we're not sure we're supposed to have, there seems to be some funny math going on with the LAPD’s estimates for the price of meth seized during drug raids.

Keisa has sniffed out a lot of meth recently.

Earlier this month the LAPD canine helped the Los Angeles Police Department’s Gang and Narcotics unit arrest one suspect and seize 40 pounds of meth. 

“Oops she did it again!” LAPD Assistant Commander Lillian Carranza tweeted. According to Carranza, the drugs were reportedly worth a whopping $1.4 million.

A week prior, in late July, Keisa helped lead authorities to another $1.4 million drug stash, only this time there were only 20 pounds of methamphetamine. At that valuation, each gram is worth more than $150, double the price of the meth seized a week later.

How did the LAPD arrive at these same two numbers for starkly different amounts of seized meth? When asked on Twitter, Carranza responded, “supply and demand are big factor (sic).”

According to Carranza, a 30+ year veteran of the LAPD who previously served as the Commanding Officer of the Gang and Narcotics Division, the price of meth has fluctuated significantly in recent years, from as little as $35,000 per pound to upwards of $65,000 per pound, sometimes within a week.

Law enforcement agencies are notorious for inflating the valuations of drugs in order to bolster their crime fighting images and justify the “war on drugs.” They achieve this by using the per gram or pill cost of a drug, rather than a wholesale value. Typically however, the more drugs a person buys, the cheaper the price.

But Caranzza’s estimates for the price of meth are much higher than the numbers cited by other local law enforcement agencies and harm reduction experts.

Even the LAPD has used much lower estimations for the price of meth. In 2019 the LAPD arrested two men after “a large methamphetamine seizure in South Los Angeles.” One hundred pounds were found. The LAPD estimated the street value of the product was $1 million. Four hundred thousand dollars less than what Carranza claims 20 pounds of meth goes for today.

Two years ago, when LAPD Southwest Division seized 20 pounds of meth, they estimated it to be worth $60,000.

When asked about Carranza’s estimates, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an email: “The Street Value of narcotics varies widely by location and over time. It’s a constant state of meeting supply and demand.” CC’d on the email were Carranza and a handful of other officers.

In her response to Moore’s email, Carranza attached a drug price list from the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a Regan-era initiative created by congress to provide assistance to local law enforcement “operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.”

“Attached is the price list provided by HIDTA as it relates to current trends,” Carranza wrote. “However, the street price is determined by many factors (purity, potency, supply, demand, wholesale, mid level, distance to source etc.).” 

The report, which was prepared on July 10, is marked “law enforcement sensitive” and includes the prices of drugs ranging from a full sheet of LSD ($400) to a “balloon” of Mexican Black Tar Heroin ($10).

According to the report, the data was obtained through “undercover narcotic operations” lead by the LA CLEAR Watch Center, a regional coalition of law enforcement agencies. It’s unclear if Carranza intended to send the price list to the reporter of this story.

According to the price list, a pound of meth will cost you around $700. And a gram costs $20. Some of Carranza’s highest estimates when broken down per pound are 100 times higher than the number cited in the report. Carranza says the numbers in the report reflect the "bulk price" of drugs and not the "street value."

Cece Luce, a harm reduction specialist who works at The Center in Hollywood, agrees that the average price for a gram of meth is around $20-40. Luce added that “a gram of meth is not enough to sustain someone’s dependency.”

Most of Luce’s clients live on an income of around $200 per month, they said, and simply wouldn’t be able to afford meth if it cost upwards of $150 for a single gram.

Luce believes that large drug seizures “endanger the safe supply.”

“If someone is unable to access their drug of choice,” Luce says, “they’re at risk of using something unsafe.”

Soma Snakeoil said she had never heard of anyone paying over a $150 for a gram of methamphetamine (as Carranza suggested).

“That’s insane,” she said. 

Snakeoil is the co-founder and executive director of The Sidewalk Project, a street-based harm reduction organization with chapters in five cities that works primarily in Skid Row and MacArthur Park here in L.A. County. 

“I think we’re looking at closer to 20 to 25 dollars,” Snakeoil told L.A. TACO. In wealthier neighborhoods, a gram might retail for $60 to $80.

In an email to L.A. TACO, Carranza elaborated on the process for determining a drug's “street value.” 

“We calculate it based on the total amount seized and what a single dose will sell for on the streets of Los Angeles,” she wrote. “So street value varies from place to place and by drug. We use info from informants and other detectives as to what a specific drug is selling for on the street.”

Carranza claims that when drugs are purchased in bulk, they are “never just divided up and sold.” According to Carranza, nearly all drugs are “mixed with cutting agents to multiply the amount, then divided into ‘doses.’” 

Carranza said the drugs that are most often “cut” are “cocaine and heroin and powdered fentanyl,” noting that “crystal meth generally isn’t cut before being packaged for street sales.”

Carranza’s formula for determining the value of meth is simple though. Multiply the number of pounds by 454 (the number of grams in a pound) and then multiply that by the price per gram. 

“For example, 20 lbs of meth x 454 (the number of grams in a pound) x $100 for a gram on street would = $908,000… but again this can vary drastically because the prices change constantly based on supply and demand. It’s not a regulated market and dealers can charge what they want. These are estimates based on our experience in L.A. Other parts of the country, drugs can be much higher,” Carranza wrote.

When asked why her estimates for the price per gram are five to seven times higher than the price per gram in the drug price list, Carranza replied:

“As previously indicated, the suspects set the wholesale price. The list is not the "street value" price. It is a bulk price. Ex 50,000 pills, multiple Kilos of cocaine, pounds of meth or fentanyl. Please do not confuse bulk price with the resale price on the streets after it has been cut. This goes to show the huge mark up on the streets and why it is so profitable. [For example], a fentanyl pill can be purchased for [a] cent and sold for up to $30 dollars a pill.”

Asked if she intended to send L.A. TACO the drug price list, Carranza responded by sending a link to a page on the White House website that led us to a ‘page not found.’

After following up and again asking if she intended to send us the report, Carranza stopped responding to our emails.

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