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How Much of Your Money Is Wasted in the War on Drugs

Enforcing the drug control system costs at least $100 billion a year.

Federal spending in the United States alone totals around $15 billion annually and according to one estimate, state and local drug-related criminal justice expenditures amount to $25.7 billion.

Many other cash-strapped governments spend hundreds of millions to billions of dollars each year on drug enforcement.

These figures are revealed in a new Count the Costs briefing—a collaborative project tallying the human and economic costs of the war on drugs—titled Wasting Billions, Undermining Economies.

While the sheer enormity of these numbers is shocking enough, it is made all the more striking by the fact that such vast expenditures have accomplished so little. Drug prices, it appears, have been unaffected by law enforcement measures.

The report states: “Despite increased resources directed to supply-side enforcement, evidence suggests that drug prices, while remaining far higher than legal commodities, have decreased over the past three decades. From 1990 to 2005, for instance, the wholesale price of heroin fell by 77 percent in Europe and 71 percent in the US.”

Instead, the results are mass incarceration and violence that come with immense human and economic costs.

The report adds: “In the United States, for example, the number of people imprisoned for drug offences has risen from approximately 38,000 to more than 500,000 in the last four decades. The lost productivity of this population was estimated by the [US Office of National Drug Control Policy] in 2004 at approximately $40 billion annually.”

The report is full of damning statistics that illustrate the economic failure of the war on drugs. Please read the full briefing and share with your networks. 

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