Year-end War on Drugs Update: Same Story, Different Year
It’s time for another one of my end of the year drug war updates. I haven’t done this in a while, so it is overdue.
To start with, as of December 7, 2009, we have spent more than $47 billion ($18.7 billion at the federal level and about $28.7 billion at the state level). These figures come from an excellent web site called the War on Drugs Clock, which is published by a web site called Drug Sense.
The War on Drugs Clock also reports that so far this year more than 1.7 million have been arrested on drug charges and of these 817,866 have been arrested for marijuana alone. Also, more than 10,000 have been put in prison on drug convictions.
Given the problems generated by this never-ending war, there is a growing recognition that alternative approaches need to be tried, including legalization. One proponent of this view is Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University. In a report published last year at this time called The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition Miron argued that “legalizing drugs would save roughly $44.1 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $30.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $13.8 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $12.9 billion of the savings would results from legalization of marijuana, $19.3 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $11.6 from legalization of other drugs.” He further noted that “legalization would yield tax revenue of $32.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs are taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.”
In many parts of the country there have been some serious efforts to change policies. A former police chief supports legalizing pot in this story and even Mexico has taken steps to legalize the possession of small quantities of heroin and cocaine, as noted in this story. However, a gung-ho district attorney in Los Angeles wants stricter enforcement of marijuana laws, in this case medical marijuana, as the controversy over this issue has become hotter in that city, as reported in a series of stories, in spite of the fact that the Department of Justice has said it will not make arrests for medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws. There are now 14 states that allow use of marijuana for medical purposes (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington). Even the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of medical marijuana.
The drug war continues to target mostly minorities and the poor, something that has been pointed out for many years by researchers. Among the most recent research on this issue includes a report by the Sentencing Project called Disparity By Geography: The War on Drugs in America’s Cities and a book by Doris Marie Provine called Race and the Drug War (for my review of this book and the Sentencing Project study see by web site).
Well, that’s it for this year. For more information about the drug war see my web site.