DRCNet Reponse to the
Drug Enforcement Administration
Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization


Drug Control Spending Is a Minor Portion of the U.S. Budget, and Compared to the Costs of Drug Abuse, Spending Is Minuscule.

DEA Statement


Legalization advocates claim that this nation has spent billions of dollars to control drug production, trafficking and use with few, if any, positive results. They contend that the money spent on drug control should be shifted to other, more productive endeavors.


That is the essential conclusion of all the Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.
The truth is, we have made great progress in reducing drug use during the past 15 years. If the relatively modest outlays of Federal dollars had not been made, drug abuse and attendant social costs would have been far greater. The good news is that drug use has declined significantly between 1979 and 1993.


First, it should be noted that, by the DEA's own figures, any drop was in casual use, not hard-core addiction. That is equivalent to reducing the number of casual wine and beer drinkers while not affecting the number of alcoholics.

Second, when apparent rates of use were going down, the DEA claimed it was tougher enforcement which did it. Now that rates are going back up - and enforcement is tougher than it ever has been -- it is clear that any drops could not have been due to law enforcement.

The experts participating in the Anti-Legalization Forum disputed the claim that money allegedly saved from giving up on the drug problem could be better spent on education and social problems. When compared to the amount of funding that is spent on other national priorities, drug control spending is minimal (see table). This is another curious argument. The DEA seems to be saying that they are not spending a lot of money, so leave them alone. Of course, it doesn't matter whether the amount spent is ten cents or ten billion dollars if it is essentially wasted and actually does more harm than good.
There has been progress in reducing drug use, and the money spent has been effective and worthwhile. Every major study of drug policy disagrees. See Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.
On the surface, legalization proponents present an appealing, simple argument that by legalizing drugs we can move vast sums of money from drug law enforcement into solving society's ills. That is obviously true. The Rand Corporation has numerous studies on their site showing that drug treatment is far more cost effective than law enforcement in reducing drug-related problems.
They leave unanswered questions about the cost of collecting revenues associated with drug sales, or the cost of regulating drugs. They ignore questions concerning the purity, potency and quality of legal drugs, the costs of insuring a safe product, and costs associated with increased liability litigation. These are the same problems faced by marketers of tobacco and alcohol. The difference is that the sellers of alcohol and tobacco are legal and we can take steps to recover money from them to address those social costs. This is not true with the illegal drugs.
Ask proponents of legalization for specifics. Would the raw material for these drugs be purchased from traditional sources, or would the United States produce its own marijuana, coca and opium? We have three choices for production and control of these drugs:

1) Government, with proper regulations and taxes

2) Private industry, with proper regulations and taxes

3) Organized crime, with no regulation or taxes.

The DEA seems to think that Option 3 is the best. We disagree.

Would the government pay farmers subsidies to produce or not produce these crops? Should the government pay farmers subsidies for producing tobacco? Should manufacturers get subsidies for producing alcohol? The issues are the same.
Although all of these questions could be resolved, none comes without a price tag. Prohibition has its own price tag, as well.
Proponents also conveniently fail to mention that unless drugs are made available to little children, law enforcement will still be needed to deal with the sale of drugs to minors. The Federal Government's own surveys of teen drug use show that teens commonly report that marijuana is the easiest drug to get, while alcohol is the most difficult. Based on their own evidence, our alcohol policy is more effective at keeping drugs away from kids than prohibition.
But more importantly, in their simplistic arguments, they omit mention of the atrocious social costs that would be incurred with a larger class of drug users. Legalization would also result in lost workforce productivity and a resultant increase in the cost of goods. A new class of unemployables would be created who were unfit to hire because of their drug dependence. This is simple, groundless fear-mongering with no basis in fact. When alcohol was legalized, we did not suddenly become a nation of alcoholics. There is nothing so magical about any of these drugs that would cause the majority of people to want to spend their lives as addicts.
Health and societal costs of drug legalization would also increase, the panel predicted. Drug treatment costs, hospitalization for long-term drug-related disease, and treatment of family violence consequences would further burden our already strapped health-care system. The research of the Rand Corporation shows that treatment is more cost-effective in reducing these problems than law enforcement - by several orders of magnitude. Even if these costs did increase substantially, they would still be less than the costs of the current system.
There was also no guarantee, according to the group, that criminal justice costs would decline if drugs were legalized. About half of our criminal justice costs are now related to drug enforcement. A more sensible policy would reduce that significantly.
It is possible that law enforcement would be additionally burdened with addressing violations of traffic and family violence laws if more people had access to drugs. The research of the Rand Corporation shows that treatment is more cost-effective in reducing these problems than law enforcement - by several orders of magnitude.
Law enforcement is already challenged by significant alcohol-related crimes. Then why isn't the DEA campaigning to bring back alcohol Prohibition?
More users mean more crimes committed, and incarceration costs would increase. This is repeat of the claims made in Claim 1 - which is already clearly refuted by the Dept. of Justice research.
Some facts which help to confirm the observations of the forum participants may be used in debates:


  • In 1995, over $13 billion is being spent by the federal government on drug control, including treatment, education, law enforcement and international activities.
This does not include state and local expenditures. Nor does it include many of the related expenses of the War on Drugs, including court and prison costs.
  • Drug abuse costs the United States between $60 and $100 billion in lost productivity each year.
Figures of this type are nothing more than DEA propaganda because there is no way to reliably estimate these costs. This is shown by the wide range of their own estimate. It is simply grabbing numbers out of the air. See for example, The Movable Epidemic

The DEA also fails to note that the majority of these costs are associated with alcohol, yet they are not recommending that we prohibit alcohol to solve that problem.

  • The federal government spends billions of dollars each year on other national priorities. In Fiscal Year 1995, the federal government had earmarked monies as follows:

The table does not take into account the related expenditures in our courts and prisons, as well as the collateral costs of prohibition such as the increase in the incidence of AIDS.

For comparison figures, see Federal Financial Analysis of the Legalization of Drugs



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