In honor of 4/20, we thought it would be appropriate to share some statistics of the effect the War on Drugs has had in the United States. The War began in President Nixon’s era and is still being waged today. Here are some statistics showing how ineffective and costly it has been.

The Statistics

  • Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: $47+ billion
  • Number of arrests in 2017 in the U.S. for drug law violations: 1,632,921
  • Number of drug arrests that were for possession only: 1,394,514 (85.4 percent)
  • Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2017: 659,700
  • Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 599,282 (90.8 percent)
  • Percentage of people arrested for drug law violations who are Black or Latino: 46.9% (despite making up just 31.5% of the U.S. population)
  • Number of people in the U.S. incarcerated in 2016: 2,205,300 – the highest incarceration rate in the world
  • Number of people in the U.S. incarcerated for a drug law violation in 2016: 456,000
  • Number of people in the U.S. who died from an accidental drug overdose in 2017: 72,000
  • Number of people killed in Mexico’s drug war since 2006: 200,000+
  • Number of people killed in the Philippines drug war since 2016: 12,000+
  • Number of students who have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction: 200,000+ 

Trending Toward Legalization

  • Number of states that allow the medical use of marijuana: 33+ District of Columbia
  • Number of states that have legalized marijuana: 10 (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State) + District of Columbia
  • Number of states that have decriminalized or removed the threat of jail time for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana: 22
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that syringe access programs lower HIV incidence among people who inject drugs by: 80 percent
  • Tax revenue that drug legalization would yield annually, if currently-illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco: $58 billion


Obviously, there are many downsides to the War on Drugs. The number of individuals in jail for drug possession, even for just possessing marijuana, is astronomically high compared to other countries. The Drug War in Mexico is devastating communities and causing thousands of deaths, due to the stronghold drug cartels have on territories in Mexico.

The benefits from legalizing marijuana in the very least are indisputable. The Mexican drug cartels would be devastated and the U.S. would solve a huge humanitarian crisis along the border. Marijuana could be taxed and bring in extra revenue for the government to spend on rehabilitation programs for drug abusers to use. Fortunately, many states have been wise enough to see these benefits and are slowly beginning to legalize marijuana in their own.

One thought on “The War on Drugs

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