Failed National Policy: A brief macro level recap on why the war-on-cannabis has failed


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Over the past few decades the Department of Justice has commonly asserted, “most violent crimes are committed not because people want to buy drugs, but because people are on drugs.” This has been the logical basis for policy regarding enforcement of illegal drugs. Although past policy seeks to validate its enforcement, research suggests that enforcement (and not use) may lead to increases in non-drug related crime.

Evidence demonstrates that arrest for marijuana (not use) is “positively associated with higher levels of property crime and homicide” (Shepard and Blackley). These results show that marijuana enforcement has been counter-productive in slowing non-drug related crimes. This is an unintended consequence of prohibition tactics.

It has been estimated that $7.7 billion is spent a year on enforcing cannabis prohibition (Miron). Another economic expense of cannabis prohibition is the six million people arrested over the past few decades. These arrests occurred while the U.S. prison population exceeded two million inmates.

Twenty five percent of the world’s prison population is incarcerated in the U.S prison system (Holleman et al). In fact, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Fifty three percent of the federal prison population and twenty percent of the state prison population are incarcerated on drug possession charges (Holleman et al). This explosion in the U.S. prison population is due to the “war on drugs” (Holleman et al).

Some believe that civil asset forfeiture creates incentive for law enforcement to target criminal activities that generate the most financial reward. State and federal law enforcement can seize (through asset forfeiture laws) cash, property, and anything else that is connected to illegal activity. Asset forfeiture proceeds can be used for law enforcement purposes such as investigations activities and purchasing equipment (Holcomb et al). In light of this, it seems hard for police to win the “war on drugs” when most departments are fiscally gaining from forfeiture revenue(s) (Worall).



Holcomb, Jefferson E., and Tomislav V. Kovandzic, and Marian R. William. 2011.”Civil Asset Forfeiture, Equitable Sharing, and Policing for Profit in the United States.” Journal of Criminal Justice 39(3):273-85.

Saffer, Henry, and Frank Chaloupka. 1999. “The Demand for Illicit Drugs.” Economic Inquiry 37(3):401.

Shepard, Edward, Paul R. Blackley. 2004. “U.S. Drug Control Policies: Federal Spending on Law Enforcement Versus Treatment in Public Health Outcomes.” Journal of Drug Issues 34(4):771-86.

Shepard, Edward M., and Paul R. Blackley. 2007. “The Impact of Marijuana Law Enforcement in an Economic Model of Crime.” Journal of Drug Issues 37(2):403-24.

Worall, John L., 2001. “Addicted to the Drug War: The Role of Civil Asset Forfeiture as a Budgetary Necessity in Contemporary Law Enforcement.” Journal of Criminal Justice 29(3):171-87.

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