The war on drugs at a glance

Click on drugsnotthugs for the source of the chart.

Hat tip to The Agitator.

[Update 10/13/12]  The figures are more iffy than I assumed, although I still think the general point is correct.

Click on Questions on the 1315 Project Chart for discussion of the figures and where they come from.

A few astute viewers have noted that at its peak spending, the chart I’ve included only hits approximately $20 billion, which extrapolated over 40 years would yield only $800 billion.  Yet we can clearly see that the chart itself is not flat at the $20B level, but climbs sharply beginning in the mid 1980s. So in short, the chart, as shown, does not add up to $1.5 trillion.

So why did I do this?  This graphic was initially not meant to stand on its own but rather illustrate an interviewee’s assertions about the costs and efficacy of drug prohibition.  In a tight production schedule, I utilized a data set that I thought most accurately illustrated the nature and growth of the costs of the War on Drugs and that data is US federal drug control spending. But the $1.5 trillion figure, as mentioned by Jack Cole in his interview, accounts for many more costs, including state level costs, prison costs, lost productivity costs due to incarceration and others.  I trust Jack’s estimate of $1.5 trillion after a quick review of the ONDCP report from 2004 gave me confidence that he was right on the money. You can check out the ONDCP’s The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States, 1992-2002.

via Matt Groff.

Click on Reason for more about the figures.

While the $1.5 trillion figure doesn’t correspond to the numbers at right, it’s actually low.  In 2010, the AP put the 40-year tab of federal drug control spending at $1 trillion. But the massive federal drug control budget–for fiscal year 2013, it’ll be $3.7 billion for interdiction, $9.4 billion for law enforcement, and $9.2 billion for early intervention–is actually a pretty small slice of the pie. States and municipalities have their own drug war expenses–investigating, trying, and locking up drug offenders–and those expenses actually dwarf what the federal government spends.

According to The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society, last published by the Department of Justice in 2011, enforcing illegal drug laws imposes an annual cost on the American criminal justice system of $56 billion; while incarceration of drug offenders imposes an annual cost of $48 billion.

That’s $104 billion spent annually by states and cities on two aspects of the drug war (and doesn’t include treatment, public assistance, and a slew of other costs), compared to roughly $21 billion spent by the federal government.  For $1.5 trillion to reflect just federal spending, the federal drug control budget would need to have been $37.5 billion a year, every year, for the last four decades. It’s only slightly more than half that this year.


I expanded this post with excerpts from the links on Oct. 19, 2012.

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