Americans Spend $100 Billion a Year on Illegal Drugs

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bank robber Willie Sutton is often (incorrectly) credited with saying he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” If Sutton were alive today, he might find himself in the illegal drug trade. The market for illegal drugs in the United States is about $100 billion each year, according to a RAND Corporation study done at the request of the White House.


The study covered the years from 2000 to 2010 and contained some interesting conclusions. One was that cocaine consumption dropped by 50% between 2006 and 2010. Marijuana use, on the other hand, increased by 30% during the period covered by the study.


Heroin use remained fairly constant, with a slight rise beginning in 2008. Methamphetamine use peaked in 2005, but the study did not account for users who produce their own drugs. Also the data was drawn primarily from urban areas, and meth use is thought to be more prevalent in rural areas.


As might be expected, the study shows that the heaviest users of drugs are responsible for the bulk the money spent. For instance, heavy marijuana users accounted for about 80% of the $40.6 billion spent (in 2010 dollars) on the herb each year.


The study comes with the caveats that the figures are far from precise, mostly because much of the data is gathered by self-reporting by drug users. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned the survey to evaluate drug policies, have a tool for estimating future drug-treatment costs and get an idea of how much money is going to criminal organizations in the United States and elsewhere.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

How Big Is the U.S. Market for Illegal Drugs? (RAND Corporation)

What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010 (by Beau Kilmer, Susan S. Everingham, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Gregory Midgette, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Peter H. Reuter, Rachel M. Burns, Bing Han and Russell Lundberg, RAND Corporation)


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