The war on drugs has always been expensive and its effectiveness debatable, but in the current budget-crunch environment, it's more of a target than ever.
In the 2010 edition of “The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition,” Jeffrey Miron, director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University, estimates that legalizing marijuana would save $13.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition.
“Legalization eliminates arrests for trafficking and possession," Miron says. “Second, legalization saves judicial and incarceration expenses. Third, legalization allows taxation of drug production and sale.”
Miron estimates that eight states each spend more than $1 billion annually enforcing marijuana laws: New York, $3 billion; Texas, $2 billion; California, Florida, $1.9 billion; Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, $1 billion.
Arizona—another border state—spends $726 million, while Coloradospends $145 million. North Dakota spends the least—$45 million a year—reflecting both its location and population density.
The budget for the federal Drug Enforcement Administrationhas increased 40-fold since its inception in 1973, from $65 million (and 2,800 employees) to $2.6 billion (11,000) in 2009.
The American public eyes these expenditures with growing alarm, says Aaron Houston, chief lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project.