top of page
  • Writer's pictureElucidation Strategies

$150 billion? Annually? (And that's from 2016?!?!?!)

Let's talk about the War on Drugs. (Not the band.)

According to, the War on Drugs is described as:

The War on Drugs is a phrase used to refer to a government-led initiative that aims to stop illegal drug use, distribution and trade by dramatically increasing prison sentences for both drug dealers and users. The movement started in the 1970s and is still evolving today. Over the years, people have had mixed reactions to the campaign, ranging from full-on support to claims that it has racist and political objectives. goes on to state, “In June 1971, Nixon officially declared a “War on Drugs,” stating that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.” This was a turning point in the “war,” in regards to public perception and intensity. (There’s plenty more on from a Nixon staffer about the real motive - "During a 1994 interview, President Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, provided inside information suggesting that the War on Drugs campaign had ulterior motives, which mainly involved helping Nixon keep his job. Ehrlichman was quoted as saying: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” ")

Many will say that the War on Drugs has been a colossal failure, since the illegal substance market is steadily growing. According to the Rand Corporation, in a 2019 press release, Americans spent $150 billion on the illegal drug market in 2016. $150 billion.

How successful has a war been, one that’s been unofficially happening since the 1920s and officially-backed-by-the-federal government since 1971, that’s still raging… in a-$150+ billion-a-year-illegal-industry?

But does everyone see it as a failure? It depends on who you ask.

Understanding that the topic of illegal substances is complex and deserves to be examined with nuance (and that some of these substances should be considered dangerous), there is considerable evidence that much of cannabis legislative policy has been fueled by a motivation to control minority populations. The major legislative policies - the Marijuana Tax of 1937, the Boggs Act of 1951, the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, and Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention & Control Act of 1970 - when they’re reviewed with context, it becomes apparent that the War on Drugs has been a tool, a means to an end, when it comes to cannabis.

The brilliant Steve DeAngelo (we mentioned that we’re fans!) points out what happens after a cannabis arrest. In The Cannabis Manifesto he explores what a cannabis charge triggers:

A partial list of social benefits and privileges that can be denied for any type of cannabis conviction: housing, student loans, professional licensing, employment, insurance, security clearances, child custody, purchase of firearms, welfare, food stamps, federal grants and contracts, social security disability benefits, scholarships, organ transplants - and this all has a disproportionate impact in low-income minority communities most in need of assistance…and this doesn’t even include jail time, fines, community service, or probation.

What we’ve been told about the War on Drugs and the reality of the War on Drugs are very different things.

Resources to consider -

Contact Elucidation Strategies for cannabis educational services.


bottom of page