June 18 2010

Drugs and America – the Drag on Society

A finely rolled joint
A finely rolled joint for your enjoyment

Eisenstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  The United States has been doing pretty much that for the past 50 years when it comes to the drug trade.  The government’s policy has been to (stated in big general terms) stop the supply and jail or fine anyone they catch with drugs.  Despite those efforts the drug trade has thrived.

According to the White House, the United States budget for the federal portion of efforts to combat drugs and drug use was $15.0 billion for 2010.  Less than 25% of that was budgeted for drug treatment.  The rest was for intervention, law enforcement, etc at the federal level.  And that doesn’t include all the costs associated with jailing those convicted of possessing or selling drugs.

This can be easily considered a full employment act for law enforcement, criminals in the drug trade, and lawyers who represent them.  As of 2007, the last year reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), there were more than 2.4 million people arrested for drug related crimes.  Approximately 75% or 1.8 million of those people were prosecuted.  These prosecutions for drug related offenses yielded a conviction rate of about 96% as of the BJS 2006 study.  This equates to approximately 1.7 million people convicted of drug related crimes.  Of those convicted, an estimated 93% or 1.6 million are sentenced to prison. The average prison sentence was 87.2 months or 7.3 years.  With the average annual cost per prisoner at approximately  $31,000 (using 2006 data) this equates to $49.6 billion per year spent on prisons for drug related crimes.

The above figures ignore the costs of prosecuting these cases through the courts, costs of detaining them in jail prior to trial, the cost of probation officers, as well as state and local police law enforcement costs.  Further, it ignores the lost productivity of the 1.6 million citizens locked up for an average of 7.2 years.  Even so, the combined cost of the selected portions identified in the preceding paragraph amount to $64.6 billion.

As a comparator:

  • $7.6 billion: The Army Corps of Engineers budget to protect us from floods
  • $2.7 billion: The FDA budget to keep our drugs pure and clean
  • $12.0 billion: The FAA budget to keep our airways safe
  • $39.7 billion: The Federal Highway Administration to keep our trasportation infrastructure sound

It’s all a matter of priorities don’t you think?  Are ours where they should be?

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Posted June 18, 2010 by Hooky in category "Politics

About the Author

Just a dude and an attitude.


  1. By Jessica Howell on

    I would like to say that the government policy has not even taken into account that not all drugs are bad. Have they forgotten that marijuana is being used for medicinal purposes and helping a lot of folks out? I think the government needs to let up on some drugs, especially those that can help people. Also, there is a lot of money being spent to prosecute and jail people arrested on drug related crimes. The government could use the money that is being spent on drug related crimes to something more useful. Just an opinion.

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