After more than 40 years and at least $1 trillion, America’s so-called “war on drugs” ranks as the longest-running, most expensive and least effective war effort by the American government. Four decades after Richard Nixon declared that “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse,” drug use continues unabated, the prison population has increased six fold to over two million inmates (half a million of whom are there for nonviolent drug offenses), SWAT team raids for minor drug offenses have become more common, and in the process, billions of tax dollars have been squandered.
Just consider—every 19 seconds, someone in the U.S. is arrested for violating a drug law. Every 30 seconds, someone in the U.S. is arrested for violating a marijuana law, making it the fourth most common cause of arrest in the United States. Approximately 1,313,673 individuals were arrested for drug-related offenses in 2011. Police arrested an estimated 858,408 persons for marijuana violations in 2009. Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 89 percent were charged with possession only. Since 1971, more than 40 million individuals have been arrested due to drug-related offenses. Moreover, since December 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown an average of 43,266 inmates per year, with about 25 percent sentenced for drug law violations.