­Americans are now realizing our country has been waging a war at home for over forty years. President Richard Nixon introduced the War on Drugs in 1971 to help with the drug addictions our soldiers returning from Viet Nam were bringing home. The first mention of a war on drugs was in the 1960’s by New York Governor David Rockefeller. However, his goal was not for a criminal solution, but a humanitarian solution through addiction treatment. The War on Drugs has escalated to an unimaginable proportion.

Nationally, violent crime rates experienced an overall decline the past thirty years. From 1994 to 2004 overall violent crime was down significantly. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics it went from 758.2 per 100,000 arrests in 1991 to 403.6 per 100,000 in 2006. Despite this reduction, incarceration in federal prisons went from approximately 350,000 to over 2 million in thirty years. And since the War on Drugs began we have seen a 1,000% increase in drug convictions.   (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012) 2006 U.S. Department of Justice Statistics shows 2,385,213 of our fellow citizens now call prison their home. Drug convictions account for two-thirds of the increase in prisoners housed in federal institutions and in state prisons inmate population has doubled. There are more people in prison today for marijuana offenses than in prison in 1980 for all crimes. (Alexander) The United States consists of five percent of the world’s population, yet we are the world’s largest jailer housing 25% of the world’s prisoners.  We house more prisoners than China, a country that has a billion more people than us.  (Alexander)

The War on Drugs has targeted the black community even though blacks were no more likely to buy or sell drugs than whites.  Millions of people of color are branded as felons, most whom are non-violent offenders. (Alexander) On top of that millions of whites and Latinos find themselves in the same circumstances. Once released from prison they are delegated to a second class citizenship. They are usually denied decent employment; will not receive assistance with housing and education; excluded from juries and not allowed to vote.

During Apartheid in South Africa they were condemned as a racist society for locking up 851 per 100,000 blacks. The United States, under President George Bush’s administration in 2006 was locking up 4,789 of its citizens per 100,000. (Alexander)

Nearly half of all black men are either in prison or labeled as felons the rest of their lives. In Indiana blacks make up 4% of Hamilton County’s population, yet account for 55% of the arrests. (Levine, H., Gettman J. and Siegal, L. 2011) Racial profiling seems to still exist.

In 2005, 4 out of 5 drug arrests were for possession. Eighty percent of those arrests were for marijuana which is widely believed to be less dangerous than alcohol. (Alexander) According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, this year’s arrests for drug law violations are expected to exceed figures from 2009 of 1,663,582. In 2009, drug arrests counted for 13.9% of all law enforcement arrests, more than any other crime. Of the 1.6 million drug arrests, approximately 850,000 were for marijuana charges. Every thirty seconds a U.S. citizen is arrested for marijuana. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012)

As seen on a national scale, Indiana’s violent crime rate has made a steady decline over the past 10 years, but the state’s arrest rate has drastically increased. The past ten years have seen an increase of over 40%.  Neighboring states have not seen the same increase. While Michigan experienced a 2% increase and Ohio at 13%, Illinois saw no increase at all. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012)

Most citizens in state prisons are locked up for a non-violent crime and have no prior record. Out of all marijuana arrests, 90% have no prior convictions. We are bringing large numbers of young people into the criminal justice system. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012) Before Reagan took office there were 50,000 people in jail for marijuana offenses. The average number of arrests annually is currently over 800,000. (Alexander)

It is clearly evident that the War on Drugs has failed. The United States government’s annual budget for the war is over $15 billion. State and local governments spend approximately another $25 billion. (Miron 2010) The overall amount we have spent on the War on Drugs has surpassed $2.5 trillion. A staggering 44 million arrested with drug use continuing to rise. Despite the money our government has spent, we have made no progress in controlling the production, distribution or use of illegal drugs. For cartels it is an annual $320 billion black market. (Andrade 2012)

In the state of Indiana between 2000 and 2009 arrests for violent crimes decreased 27%. Indiana currently houses, in state facilities, approximately 1,300 prisoners convicted of marijuana offenses. The annual cost to house a prisoner in Indiana is currently $35,000 with an additional average of $25,000 for medical. As of July, 2010, local jails were housing approximately 1,500 felons due to lack of space at state facilities. If we continue at the same rate, in the next five years Indiana will need an additional $1.2 billion of taxpayer’s money for an additional facility. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012)

Indiana’s current prison population of approximately 29,000 is up from 20,000 just eight years ago. Between 2000 and 2008 the cost of running prisons in Indiana increased 24%. In 2008 it was approximately over $600 million which was up from $495 million in 2000 (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary) Local law enforcement and courts in Indiana spend over $150 million a year arresting and prosecuting up those who have committed misdemeanor marijuana offenses. (Gettman 2010)

Indiana’s drug laws are some of the harshest in the country. A drug sale in Indiana will garner more time than a sexual assault or burglary. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012) Those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in Indiana could receive up to one year in jail. A second offense is considered a felony with a prison term of six months to three years. In Franklin County a first time offender will receive an automatic thirty days in jail. (Levine, H., Gettman J. and Siegal, L. 2011) According to the Criminal Sentencing Policy Committee, Indiana has some of the country’s highest recidivism rates. A large amount of that comes from getting caught with a failed drug test which then violates probation. Approximately 33% of all Marion County probations are revoked for violating the terms of their probation by failing a drug test. Allen County sees a violation in approximately 28% of their probations. (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012)

What does it all say? The figures are astounding. What have we done to ourselves and the rest of the world? Studies and policy changes overseas are already showing us different ways to achieve better results. New approaches need to be implemented.

Legalization will bring in an entire new commodity for tax revenue. It was estimated in 2008 that the U.S. market consumes 14,000 metric tons of marijuana a year. At a low cost of approximately $3570 per pound, we are looking at $113 billion in sales. This translates to $31 billion annually in lost tax revenues. (Gettman, 2010)  2008 data from Indiana shows the magnitude of the market in the Hoosier state. Indiana in 2008 had 535,000 past year marijuana users, or 10% of the population of those 12 and older. 326,000 citizens in that same age category are monthly users. (Gettman 2010)  With approximately 535, 000 annual users, calculated at two grams per week we are looking at 12 million pounds a year. Using an updated price of $4,000 per pound we get a total retail market of approximately $500 million with a tax revenue of $50 million for our state’s treasury. (Gettman, 2010)

Legalization would lower the costs of marijuana, therefore allowing consumers to spend their money in other markets. It would be a needed benefit for the economy.

If not full legalization of marijuana, then we must look at decriminalization. Since the 1970’s more than a dozen states, including Nebraska, Ohio, California, Oregon, North Carolina and Mississippi decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. Of all the states that decriminalized, not a single one ever reversed their decision. Argentina, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Portugal are a handful of the countries that no longer see the drug issue as a criminal matter, but handle it from a public health perspective. Studies from Portugal and the Netherlands show a significant decline in use and in Portugal a doubling of those seeking treatment just five years after decriminalizing marijuana. There has been nearly a 50% decline in teen use in the years after decriminalization in Portugal. (Szalavitz, M. 2009) But studies from U.S. states do not show any significant decrease among teenagers. (Gettman, Criminal Sentencing Policy Committee Study 2011) Was it more accessibility to treatment that reduced teen use in Portugal and other countries? In Portugal, those caught in possession with small amounts of drugs are sent to face a panel consisting of a social worker, legal advisor and a psychologist. It is determined then if an addiction exists and what treatment is needed. (Szalavitz, M. 2009) However, it has been determined in at least two studies that marijuana addiction only occurs in 9-10% of the people who participate in its use. (Gettman, Criminal Sentencing Policy Committee Study, 2011)

Or is it more education we need to provide? We have learned from alcohol and tobacco that education does reduce the amount of habitual users. We need more studies to determine how we can obtain the effects we desire.

Will more substance abuse treatment centers work? Judge David Bolk believes community-based treatment is a better alternative to arrest and incarceration. Judge Bolk mentions of the three treatment centers opened in the Terre Haute area, all three were successful and at a far lesser cost than incarceration, but two had to close their doors due to lack of funding.  (Trigg 2010)

We cannot ignore the fact that the drug policies of Latin American countries must change in order to affect change here. Mexico under Felipe Calderon has spent over a billion dollars on the drug war between 2008 and 2011, alone. Despite having over 50,000 police and armed forces involved in fighting the war on drugs, the violence has escalated as the cartels fight the government and each other. Since 2006 when Calderon began his first term as President of Mexico they have seen over 40,000 murders. Lawlessness has taken over entire areas of Mexico where their government has lost complete control and the violence spills across the border.  (Justice Reinvestment in Indiana Summary 2012)

More prisons are not the answer. Prisons breed violence. In the movie Blow, Johnny Depp playing cocaine kingpin George Jung remarks, “I entered Danbury (correctional facility) with a degree in marijuana. I graduated with a bachelor’s in cocaine.”    

In 2011 former heads of state of Poland, Mexico, Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Greece, a former U.S. Surgeon General, former Secretary of State, human rights activists, Ethan Nadleman, Sir Richard Branson and many more came together to help call for an end to the War on Drugs.(Andrade 2012) The cost has been devastating. With this distinguished group and the recent legalization in Colorado and Washington, hopefully a new and brighter chapter has begun.

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow; Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness New

York: The New Press, 2010. Print

Levine, H., Gettman J. and Siegal, L. (2012) Marijuana Possession Arrests Rates of Whites and

Blacks in the 5 Largest Counties in Indiana, 2003-2007. Marijuana Arrest Research Project. Drug Policy Reform Meeting Indiana Conference. Drug Policy Alliance. NAACP.

“Justice Reinvestment in Indiana; Summary Report and Policy Framework” Justice Center the

Council of State Governments. (2010)

Szalavitz, Maia.  (2009, April 26) Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? Time.

Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1893946,00.html

Trigg, L. (2010, December 19) Indiana inmate population up 41 percent since 2000. Terre Haute

Tribune-Star.  Retrieved from: http://tribstar.com/news/x1666507885/Indiana-inmate-population-up-41-percent-since-2000

Andrade, Fernando Grostein, dir. Breaking the Taboo. Narrated by Morgan Freeman. 2012.

Sundog Pictures and Spray Films, Online streaming.   

“Marijuana Prohibition Facts” Marijuana Policy Project, 2008. Web. 9 December, 2012

Click to access MJ_ProhibFacts092008.pdf

Miron, J. “The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition” Department of Economics, Harvard


Dr. Jon Gettman, former Chairman, NORML, Criminal Sentencing Policy Committee Study on

Marijuana at the Indiana Statehouse (July 2011)