In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared the beginning of a national “war on drugs,” and asked Congress for $84 million to battle what he saw as a burgeoning national emergency. Subsequent Presidents, perhaps most notably President Ronald Regan, continued to support the creation of drug policy that has proven to be not only ineffective, but also costly. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 22.5 million people in the U.S., nearly nine percent of the population, used illicit drugs in 2011 alone, the last year for which statistics are available. In one recent article, published in the Wall Street Journal, Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy, economists at the University of Chicago, estimated that the total cost of the war on drugs – including spending on police, jails, court personnel and other costs – amounts to approximately $40billion each year.
The amount of money spent on drug control efforts is, indeed, staggering. What is worse, the effects of this spending are magnified in current economic times, when state and local governments have to make difficult decisions about funding for education, infrastructure improvements and social programs. Although it may be difficult to estimate the true costs of the current drug policy, it is clear that the choice to spend money on the war on drugs can have a serious impact on people’s lives.
One immediate consequence of the current drug policy in the U.S. is the steadily increasing number of people in our nation’s prisons. According to Becker and Murphy, the number of people in state and federal prisons in the U.S. has grown from approximately 330,000 in 1980 to 1.6 million currently. Approximately 50 percent of those currently in federal prisons and about 20 percent of those in state prisons have been convicted for either possessing or selling drugs.
Although federally mandated crackdowns on drug offenders may make for good politics, it does not necessarily make for good policy. Millions of convictions for drug offenses and mandatory minimum sentences have taken a toll on families that is difficult to quantify. Unfortunately, laws as they are currently written address the drug issue as a simple criminal issue and not as the complex social, economic and health issue that it really is.
If you are facing charges for a drug crime, including the possession or sale of marijuana, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can evaluate your case and help you protect your rights.