The “war on drugs” by the numbers

April 7, 2013 | By | 8 Replies More

Think by Numbers describes the so-called “war on drugs” with statistics. I think this government program is better described as a welfare program for those who want to believe that they are making communities safer when they are actually cranking up the price of substances that are, for the most part, comparable to substances already offered legally by Big Pharma, thereby injecting violence into communities–especially in the case of marijuana. This article is written in the form a letter to President Obama:

Every minute someone is arrested for simple drug possession in the United States. In 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032. Despite your claims that going after recreational pot users in states where it is legal is not “a top priority”, your administration has continued to aggressively target dispensaries that are in compliance with state law. I and others have shouldered the $10 billion annual cost of arresting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people for the possession of marijuana. These arrests are often for small quantities for personal use. . . . What’s worse, the money you are stealing from me isn’t even having any impact on the level of illicit drug use. You are just tearing apart thousands of families for no reason. Addiction rates are at exactly the same level that they were before we spent $1.5 trillion dollars on “drug control measures”.

Do check out the graphs in the article. If you want the same conclusions from the perspective of career law enforcement officers, check out the website of “Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).


Category: Drug laws

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    PBS Frontline did an excellent documentary on this topic, called “Drug Wars.” Google will get you there. It describes how the U.S. drug war can be seen as a class war on the poor, with harsh prison sentences for (mostly) poor drug addicts.

  2. Ellen says:

    I think you’re right on that one grumpypilgrim

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    PBS Independent Lens also did an amazing documentary about the U.S. drug war, called, “The House I Live In” (see it in its entirety at The show examines how the so-called “war on drugs” disproportionately targets minority populations, and why the U.S. imprisons more people than any other nation on the planet…yet illegal drugs are still fairly cheap and widely available. Watch the film — you will be shocked.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I’m watching “The House I Live In” right now. It’s an extremely good documentary on the futility of the “war on drugs.” Thanks for the rec, Grumpy.

      I watched with interest historian Richard Miller’s analysis of the history of drug wars. The Economist describes Miller’s main point:

      Eugene Jarecki’s new documentary, “The House I Live In”, opens and closes by invoking Nazi Germany. Mr Jarecki mentions it first in reference to his family, who emigrated to escape the Nazis, and again in reference to America’s drug laws, the subject of his film. Richard Lawrence Miller, a historian, argues that America’s drug laws dole out to drug abusers what fascist regimes have done to undesirables the world over: ostracism, loss of liberty and eventually incarceration.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    From the website of The House I Live In:

    Drug War Statistics
    • Over the past 40 years, the War on Drugs has cost more than $1 trillion and accounted for more than 45 million arrests.

    • In 2009 nearly 1.7 million people were arrested in the U.S. for nonviolent drug charges – more than half of those arrests were for marijuana possession alone. Less than 20% was for the sale or manufacture of a drug.

    • Even though White and Black people use drugs at approximately equal rates, Black people are 10.1 times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses. Today, Black Americans represent 56% of those incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they comprise only 13% of the U.S. population.

    • In a 2010 survey, 8.9% of Americans over the age of 12 had used illicit drugs in the past month.

    • Today, there are more people behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses than were incarcerated for all crimes, violent or otherwise, in 1970. To return to the nation’s incarceration rates of 1970, America would have to release 4 out of every 5 currently held prisoners.

    • Between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars today. In 1980, the total U.S. prison and jail population was about 500,000 – today, it is more than 2.3 million.

    • The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world – both per capita and in terms of total people behind bars. The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it has almost 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.

    • 1 in every 8 state employees works for a corrections agency.

    • It costs an average of $78.95 per day to keep an inmate locked up, more than 20 times the cost of a day on probation.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    To watch an excellent debate about the war on drugs, see this PBS program:

    The ‘Intelligence Squared’ PBS series also has several other worthwhile debates, which you can link to from the above page.

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