Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Americans Spend Over $100 Billion a Year on Illegal Drugs

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 4:01 PM

click to enlarge Amateur
  • Amateur

Another weekend approaches. And with it, the weekly buying of fun: the barroom bacchanal, where stacks of $20 bills are transformed into liquid fun before your very eyes, where desperation is turned into drunken bliss before you can say, "loan deferral." (Enjoy your 20s, kids).

San Francisco is a busy drinking town, and we are not alone. Americans spend $161 billion a year, according to one estimate.

But nothing chases a vodka-tonic-and-a-pack-of-Marlboro-Reds dinner quite like a bump in the bathroom. So it might not come as a surprise that Americans also spend an awful lot of money on illegal drugs, according a RAND Corporation estimate prepared for the US drug czar.

About $109 billion, give or take, was spent on cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin in 2010, RAND's study says.

Drugs, in other words, are a bigger business than the National Football League and most other industries you can name. But what's more stunning is how few Americans are spending this weekly $2 billion.

Marijuana is the big moneymaker, obviously. The country's 17.6 million regular marijuana users -- those who partake in weed at least once a week -- burn $41 billion annually, on 12.5 million pounds of pot.

Other estimates run higher, but either way, that's a lot of weed.

As for the other drugs:

  • Cocaine: $28 billion, 2.5 million regular users;

  • Heroin: $27 billion, 1.5 million regular users;

  • Methamphetamine: $13 billion, 1.6 million regular users (not only are meth users tedious, they're cheap).

It's not the dabblers who drive this economy, either, it's your straight fiends, as you might expect. "It is the daily/ near-daily users in particular who drive consumption," the report says.

We can't say for sure how much the average bargoer is spending on a weekend pub crawl these days. But let's assume you like a few drinks on Friday after work to unwind, a few more on Saturday night, followed up with a Bloody Mary for that Sunday morning hangover. That'll be multiple trips to the ATM in one weekend.

Some bar napkin math will tell you that your alcohol binges would cost you $5,200 a year, and if RAND's averages hold steady, the average drug user blows an additional $4,618 a year on illegal drugs.

Getting high is big business indeed.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"