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Escallating the War on Drug: Causes and Unintended Consequences



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ESCALLATING THE WAR ON DRUGS CAUSES AND UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES By Bruce L Benson Chair Department of Economics DeVoe Moore and Distinguished Research Professor Courtesy Professor of Law Florida State University Tallahassee FL 32306 850 644 7094 bbenson fsu edu 1 I Introduction Involvement in markets for some types of drugs has been illegal for over a century in the United and marijuana was added to the illicit drug category over seven decades ago Police efforts to control drug production sales and consumption have never been as intensive as they are now however as the last two plus decades have witnessed an unprecedented expansion in the level of criminal justice resources allocated to drug enforcement efforts Figure 1 illustrates this using estimated total drug arrests in the United States as an indicator Drug arrests were falling in the early 1980s and late 1970s 1 rose in 1982 and fell slightly in 1983 These arrests rose continuously from 1984 to 1989 however when they reached a level almost two and a half times the total eight years early This 1989 peak was higher than any year in the history of drug criminalization but arrests then declined for two years The 1991 level was still almost twice what it had been a decade earlier however and arrests began rising rapidly again in 1992 surpassing the 1989 peak in 1995 and reaching another temporary peak in 1997 After that drug arrests fluctuated some from year to year through 2002 another temporary peak was reached in 2001 but rapid increases set in again in 2003 and this latest escalation has continued through 2006 the latest data available The following presentation addresses two aspects of this virtually continuous escalation in drug enforcement First it offers an explanation for its beginning and continuation as well for the most significant departure from this trend in 1991 92 Second it examines significant unanticipated negative consequences of the escalation The explanation of both the trend in enforcement and



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