Americans Are Spending Nearly $150 Billion on Illicit Drugs Each Year

With cannabis legalization in the national spotlight, substance use and drug policy are main concerns in the U.S. 

According to a recent RAND Corporation report, American’s spending on illicit drugs has reached nearly $150 billion. 

In an attempt to help policymakers understand what is happening in substance markets, the study reported on estimates of: the number of users, retail expenditures, and the amount of consumption in the decades between 2006 to 2016. Researchers in the study estimated that, within this time period, spending on cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine fluctuated between $120 billion and $145 billion each year. The report also includes language on what types of data would help measure the scale of these markets, such as newly legalized cannabis industries. 

Money spent on cannabis—from both illegal and state-licensed sources—increased by nearly 50% in those years, skyrocketing from $34 billion to $52 billion. That is nearly the same size as both the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, reports RAND. Further, the rate of monthly consumption increased by nearly 30%, from 25 million to 30 million. 

When it came to cocaine, usage dropped before increasing again in 2016; 2.4 million Americans reported using the substance on four or more days in the past month between 2015 and 2016. Heroin consumption saw an increase of around 10%. The study’s authors did note a steady increase in heroin seizures within the U.S. and at the southwest border. Methamphetamine use, however, remains harder to determine. 

“While there is considerable uncertainty surrounding national methamphetamine estimates, multiple indicators suggest methamphetamine use has exceeded its previous peak around 2005,” states Beau Kilmer, co-author of the report and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “While there is much more we can do to reduce opioid use disorders and poisonings involving synthetic opioids, we cannot ignore the growing problems associated with methamphetamine use.”

To read the full report, What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2006 – 20016, click here.

Emerald contributor since June 2019

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