Effectiveness of Drug Enforcement Laws

In many countries of the world including the United States, drug enforcement law is a central framework of their national policies. These governments allocate a bigger percentage of their budgetary spending to drug enforcement programs. For instance, the federal government of the United States spends about twelve billion USD annually in programs aimed at enforcing the drug law. Despite this significant investment, there exists limited that can assist in determining the effectiveness of the drug enforcement policy. The United States federal government spends less than one USD for every one hundred USD budgeted to be expended on drug law enforcement on research. This hampers the process of evaluating whether the countries’ drug enforcement laws are effective due to the inadequacy of enough data occasioned by limited research (McMullins, 2001).

According to the report from the National Research Council of National Academies, the capability of the United States to evaluate the effectiveness of its drug policies is not better than it was 20 years back when the effort to combat drugs was stepped up. The report points out that the absence of adequate, reliable data on both drug use and the actual cost of illicit drugs severely hampers the assessment of the enforcement activities. It further points out that the government lacks the necessary systems and the infrastructure for carrying out research to gauge the importance of drug enforcement policies. The major objective of the enforcement is to reduce the supply of the drugs and push the costs up, in the process reducing its consumption. Therefore, without this critical data, it is not easy to deduce whether the drug enforcement laws assist in reducing crime (McMullins, 2001).

The effectiveness of drug law enforcement as a tool for reducing other forms of crimes in the US has raised a lot of concern in the media and members of the public. This led to research being conducted to deduce the evidence about this relationship. The research was performed using data collected from 62 counties in New York City which covered the period 1996-2000 (Shepard & Blackley, 2005). Analysis of the data was aimed at estimating set models that assessed the effects of recent drug arrests on reported rates of crimes such as robbery, burglary, assaults, and larceny. By correlating the end result, the research revealed some inconsistencies such as; no model showed that drug arrests had a negative relationship with the increase in crime, all crimes being related positively to arrests for the manufacture and sale of hard drugs, recorded increases in total per capita drug arrests and arrests for hard drug possession are accompanied by higher rates for all crimes except assault, and finally, increased arrests for the manufacture or sale of marijuana was associated with an increase in larceny (Shepard & Blackley, 2005). The conclusions deduced in this research did find any relation with the increase in drug arrests and reduced crime numbers. The findings raised serious questions about the effectiveness of federal drug law enforcement as a crime control measure.

Shepard, & Blackley (2005), points out that the United States federal government uses two-thirds of its budget enforcing drug control policies, from the time President Richard Nixon war on drugs and banned substances such as; crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamine. By 2002, the federal government had spent about 12 billion USD, arrested 2 million drug offenders, and raised penalties. However, this disproportionate allotment of the budget has neither reduced drug trafficking nor has it reduced drug consumption in the United States. At the same time, the budgetary allocation for other services such as the National Research Council has been curtailed and therefore the government is not in a position to perform a cost-benefit analysis of its spending. To correlate their research findings, they used different econometric analyses of crime control and drug policies. The econometric crime variable these researchers applied were as follows; assault, robbery, larceny, burglary, hard drug possession, and marijuana sales, and were measured on the scales of 1000 arrests per variable. In order to enhance better correlation, the variables were measured along with the unemployment rate percentages and the population density to get the sample mean and the standard deviation. The data deduced revealed in crimes that occurred quite often and a pattern emerged after applying the fixed-effect models. The observation revealed that crime rates fell when the unemployment percentages were reduced but there were no determinants to indicate that crimes reduced because of an increase in the number of arrests made (Shepard, & Blackley). Shepard & Blackley conclude that there has to be more funding for research into the effectiveness of law enforcement on drug policies.

In its report, the National Research council complained in detail about the failure of the United States federal government to adequately allocate enough funds in the budget for research purposes to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of the drug enforcement law. According to this report, the United States government does not have the required data system and sufficient infrastructure to carry out research to find out how effective drug control and enforcement policies have been performing. The system seems to lack accountability in terms of budgetary allotment. According to this report, it is sad to imagine for the United States of America to continue carrying out a public policy of huge magnitude and enormous costs without proper evaluation procedures to gauge the desired outcomes. For instance, the system does not encourage the efforts to reduce the consumption of drugs, it does not assist in finding out the reasons why the people take drugs and does not understand how the supply chains operate, and do not have mechanisms of measuring the exact amounts or dosages of drugs consumed. The United States agencies tend to rely only on the quantities seized and there are no reliable estimates on how much contrabands are illegally smuggled in the country undetected (McMullin, 2001).

There is a clear indication that the United States law enforcement agencies are more interested in punishing the offenders rather than preventing the need for such crimes. It provides more allocation of the budget to law enforcers, and little is provided for research and in essence difficult to find out how effective the crime fighters are achieving the desired goals of reducing drug use and preventing other related crimes. The law enforcement measures seem to be enforced without credible scientific evidence showing whether they can indeed achieve the desired results. The surveys that exist do not gather enough information on how for instance; the drug market operates; do not indicate the dynamics on how the drug consumers start using drugs; addiction; and their efforts to quit drugs. Additionally, it does not provide statistics on the number of drugs consumed by the people. The quantity of drugs consumed is an important barometer of determining the vitality of the drug market. Therefore, the government needs to have factual information on the cost of drugs in order to understand how for instance, the users respond to price changes. Despite the existence of drug law enforcement agencies, which collect information on drug market prices, without proper research, the data they provide is not adequate for effective analysis of the causes and consequences of fluctuations. For instance, currently, the United States government policy has increased drug prices, but at the same time does not know the magnitude of the increase. Furthermore, it is unclear which policy components have brought about this outcome; extend to which higher costs have decreased consumption and/or which drug users have been most affected. The whole approach seems intent on deterrence rather than prevention and urgent reforms are needed in the way the policies are framed, implemented, and reviewed by the senate. This does not mean that law enforcers should stop arresting offenders or that they are not efficient. The two articles just point out the need to urgently shift the perspective to meet the objective of reducing drug consumption and not increasing arrests (McMullin, 2001).

In conclusion, the United States government should put more emphasis on allocating more funds for research purposes besides apportioning enough for the drug law enforcers. This is because research assists a great deal in the provision of factual information for proper evaluation of the drug law enforcement policies. Research also assists in encouraging the efforts to reduce the consumption of drugs by availing details and finding out the reasons why people take drugs.


Lynch, G.W & Blontner, R. (1993). Legalizing drugs is not the solution. Volume 168, Issue 5. From Education Research Complete Database.

McMullin, K. (2001). Data sorely Lacking on effectiveness of national’s Drug-Enforcement Programs. Media Relations Associate. Web.

Shepard, E.M. & Blackley, P.R. (2005). Drug enforcement and crime: Recent evidence from New York State. Social Science Quarterly. Volume 86, Number 2. From Academic Complete Database.

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