The drug war is responsible for trillions of wasted tax dollars and misallocated government spending, as well as devastating human costs that far outweigh the damage caused by drugs alone. The United States’ unrivaled incarceration rate is a constant financial drain, causing an immeasurable loss in workforce productivity, and puts a strain on scant legal and law enforcement resources.
DPA is working to end wasteful government spending on the drug war by leading the national dialogue about ending prohibition and refocusing resources on health-centered approaches to drug use.
Wasted Tax Dollars
Over the past four decades, federal and state governments have poured over $1 trillion the drug war and relied on taxpayers to foot the bill. Unfortunately, these tax dollars haven’t solved the problems they were intended to solve – while creating a whole new set of huge problems.
Here are some of the fiscal costs of the war on drugs:
Just as disheartening as the fiscal costs of fighting a failed drug war are the opportunity costs. Think of the impact all that drug war funding could have if instead of financing the arrest and incarceration of millions of people each year, we made drug treatment more widely available, improved social service and education programs, or simply gave the money back to taxpayers.
Distorted Incentives for Law Enforcement
Ever wonder why police spend so much time enforcing failed drug laws? To find the answer, you just need to follow the money.
Supply and Demand
A prime example of the drug war’s backward logic is its distortion of the basic economic principle of supply and demand. The federal government funnels vast resources into futile criminal legal and interdiction policies intended to reduce the supply of drugs, while neglecting treatment and education strategies that could help reduce drug demand.
This focus on supply reduction has failed to reduce drug use, while provoking drug trade-related violence. The economic incentives of the illegal drug trade ensure that supply-side interdiction is an unwinnable battle. Education and treatment programs are exponentially more cost-effective and successful when it comes to addressing problematic substance use.
Internationally, the hypocrisy of American drug policy is clear. Despite being the largest consumer of drugs in the world, the U.S. focuses on violent supply reduction strategies in other countries while investing little in demand reduction strategies domestically.
Drug prohibition essentially provides a monopoly and price supports for organized crime. Forcibly limiting the supply of drugs while demand remains relatively constant only increases the profitability of drug trafficking.
Drug Prohibition and Violence
Drug enforcement officials often cite drug-related violence as a reason that drugs must be eliminated from our society, but it is actually the system of drug prohibition that causes much of the violence. Just as alcohol Prohibition fostered organized crime in the 1920s, drug prohibition empowers a dangerous illegal market throughout the United States and the world.
Prohibition has inflated the price, and thus the profit, of drugs substantially. It has also driven the drug trade underground, where there are no legal avenues for peacefully resolving disputes between competitors.
Rather than proposing specific policies for increasing prevention and treatment services to directly impact drug use in the United States, the federal government's approach to the alarming prohibition-related violence in countries like Mexico and Colombia has been to pour more money into law enforcement crackdowns on cartels and efforts to intercept drug shipments. Throughout the drug war's history, these kinds of supply-side interventions have consistently failed to reduce violence. They have instead made the illicit drug market more profitable, more competitive and more dangerous.
In countries that bear the brunt of drug war violence, such as Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia, prominent leaders are speaking up more and more about the benefits of ending prohibition. We believe ending drug prohibition is the key to reducing drug war violence in the U.S. and restoring peace to destabilized regions abroad.
The Drug Policy Alliance is working to shift funding away from the same old failed policies and toward effective drug treatment and education programs. We are leading the movement to end prohibition’s drain on our economy and to protect your tax dollars from wasteful drug war spending.
We advocate for ending prohibition and treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal legal issue. As a nation, we must learn to live with the reality of drugs and drug use and find solutions based on common sense and sound economic principles.
Here are some examples of our work: