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The War on Drugs by the Numbers

By       Message Louis Nardozi     Permalink    (# of views)   12 comments

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The War on Drugs - A Cost/Benefit Analysis It seems unlikely a TRULY definitive study can be made on this subject. Any number I can report to you, while genuine government statistics, will almost certainly underreport actual drug usage. After all, what sensible person would voluntarily admit to illegal activities that would be cause for jailing them indefinitely? Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who admit their drug use. Are there as many as those who actually use drugs? Almost certainly not. According to the Department of Justice fully 46% of the adult population has admitted to illegal drug use of one kind or another during their lifetime. Here's a small bit of their list:

  • 112 million Americans age 12 or older (46% of the population) reported illicit drug use at least once in their lifetime
  • 14% reported use of a drug within the past year
  • 8% reported use of a drug within the past month.

    Let's suppose the overall use of marijauna by the entire population is about 7%. It is almost certainly much higher, but that figure suffices for our explanation. Let us further suppose the average marijuana user's usage is low, about 1/4 of an ounce a week. I'm sure all of you have a friend that smokes (even if you don't know it) so ask them if that's a reasonable amount. Consumption is going to look something like this:


    Known Marijuana Users



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    Percent of Population Number of People Cost Per Week Weeks per yearTotal Revenue per YearTaxable Portion (90%)
    7% 21,000,000 $50 52 $54,600,000,000 $49,140,000,000

    Let's throw in a couple more drugs just to get an idea of the order of magnitude we're looking at here. Remember, there are at LEAST 20 recreational drugs whose sale is big business for criminals, terrorists and foreign drug cartels.

    Known Cocaine Users




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    Percent of Population Number of People Cost Per Week Weeks per year Total Revenue per Year Taxable Portion (90%)
    2% 6,000,000 $150 52 $46,800,000,000 $42,120,000,000

    Known Heroin Users




    Percent of Population Number of People Cost Per Week Weeks per year Total Revenue per Year Taxable Portion (90%)
    1% 3,000,000 $400 52 $62400000000 $56,160,000,000

    So for these three drugs ONLY, a total of $147,420,000,000 of tax revenue is lost. If you're wondering what that corresponds to for the actual taxpayer, it comes out to $491.40 for each member of your family. If you have a family of four, your tax bill could be nearly $2000 dollars lower if drugs were taxed instead of being illegal. Sound good? Well, there's probably other information you should have before rushing into a decision.

    The Department of Justice also maintains information and statistics related to the numbers and offenses of people currently incarcerated in our prisons . According to the DOJ for 20% of the prison population, drug offenses were their most serious crime. Leaving aside momentarily the great numbers of people who committed offenses to SUPPORT their drug habits, let us consider ONLY those ones in prison PRIMARILY for their drug offenses - that 20%.


    Drug User Incarceration Costs
    Number of InmatesDrug OffensesCost Per InmateAdjusted for InflationTotal

    Twelve billion dollars is a drop in the bucket - only $160.00 a year for that family of four, right? Well, somebody has to catch the drug user before he gets put in prison. Also, someone has to try him, defend him, process his paperwork, serve capiases on him etc. How much does that cost? Assuming the same 20% of law enforcement resources are used to catch people as to imprison them, it'd break down something like this:


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    Drug User Law Enforcement Costs


    Type of agency Number of agencies Number of full-time
    sworn officers
    20% Used for drug interdiction

    Total   836,787 167357
    All State and local 17,876 731,903  
    Local police 12,766 446,974  
    Sheriff 3,067 175,018  
    Primary State 49 58,190  
    Special jurisdiction 1,481 49,398  
    Constable/Marshal 513 2,323  
    Federal*   104,884  


    Number ofOfficers Real Cost/Officer (Including Infrastructure) Total
    167357 $130,000 $21,756,410,000

    Now let's look at court personnel. Let us assume 1 judge could process the cases of 50 full time policemen. Getting statistics on the number of drug judges has been impossible for me so we have to estimate - but don't you wonder why, with all the information that IS readily available, why the (equivalent) number of drug judges is not? Nonetheless we will work with the 1:50 assumption. That gives us:

  • 16736 judges
  • 33472 bailiffs (2 per judge)
  • 33472 sheriffs or deputies (2 per judge)
  • 16736 public defenders (1 per judge)
  • 16736 court reporters (1 per judge)
  • 33472 clerks of court (2 per judge)

    or a total of 150624 ancillary court personnel. Again we have:


    Number of Court personnel Real Cost/Person (Including insurance, retirement, capital costs) Total
    167357 $130,000 $19,581,120,000

    That makes another $41,337,530,000 to catch them and imprison them. Not so bad - only $138 per person per year. That family of four will pay $551 a year, but it's worth it to keep the street safe isn't it? What's that you say? You can go down to the corner right now and buy weed or crack? And so can your kid? Well, I have to admit that's true.

    If we look at the direct tax costs in total, that would be $200,756,696,174 - that's right VERIFIABLY BY THE DOJ'S OWN STATISTICS TWO HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. That works out to be $669 for every man woman and child in America - $2676 a year for that family of four.
    Over the last 20 years every family of four has paid the equivalent of $28,122 to support the Drug War.
  • Phew! $28,000 would buy a college education for BOTH children, if the first two years were at community college. You gave away a college education for BOTH your kids, and what did you get in return?

    46% of the population reported drug use at least once in their lifetime. So what does THAT mean, you might say? Well... it means that half of the people in the United States are criminals. Why are so many OTHER laws broken with impunity? Because everyone either breaks the law or knows someone who has. Even if we didn't recover a penny from stopping the Drug War, we'd keep 150 BILLION dollars out of the hands of criminals. Poor people get into drug dealing because they think it's their road to easy riches. It's a shame - low leve drug dealers don't make any real money and they're the ones who end up in prison. We could change our foreign policy to BUY the drugs instead of spending even more billions to eradicate them (another cost which I didn't bother to include). If you ever talk to your children, you know it's MUCH harder for them to buy alcohol than it is to buy drugs. I'd much rather have a RESPONSIBLE ADULT checking my child's ID before selling them drugs, if you don't mind.



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    The War on Drugs by the Numbers