Graph: Drugs Get Cheaper as Arrests Rise

By Victoria Kim 05/30/13

Attempts to use mass incarceration to drive up illegal drug prices have spectacularly failed, the numbers show.

Cocaine is getting cheaper and cheaper
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A graph published in the Washington Post (below) illustrates the "embarrassing" results of government attempts to stymie illegal drug supply. The prices of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine—which collectively account for 90% of drug-related incarceration—plunged between 1980 and 2008, just as drug-related incarceration rose from fewer than 42,000 in 1980 to 562,000 in 2007. In the paper which produced the figures on which the graph is based—Long-Run Trends in Incarceration of Drug Offenders in the USJonathan Caulkins and Sarah Chandler of Carnegie Mellon University note that a major aim of drug-related incarceration is to drive up prices and reduce consumption by constraining the illegal drug supply. Law enforcement attempts to make drugs more expensive include crop eradication overseas, interdicting smuggling routes, street-level policing and busting dealers. But the numbers reveal an opposite outcome to that intended. "[The] relationships between incarceration, prices, and [use] seem perverse," say the researchers. "Price plummeted and [use] soared precisely when drug-related incarceration was increasing dramatically, exactly the opposite of what one would expect or hope for." The US has budgeted to spend $24.5 billion on drug control in 2013, 38% of it towards demand reduction (treatment, education, and prevention) and 62% towards supply reduction (law enforcement and interdiction).

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr