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Illegal drugs: How big is the U.S. market?

U.S. consumers spend $100 billion every year on illegal drugs according to a new report by the RAND Corporation.
U.S. consumers spend $100 billion every year on illegal drugs according to a new report by the RAND Corporation.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

U.S. consumers spend $100 billion every year on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine according to a new report by the RAND Corporation.

To estimate revenue going to criminal organizations, RAND researchers studied the size of illegal drug markets in the U.S from 2000 to 2010.

“Our analysis shows that Americans likely spent more than one trillion dollars on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010,” said Beau Kilmer, the study's lead author.

While the amount of spending remained stable during that period, researchers detected a change in consumer tastes:

The use of cocaine dropped sharply across the United States from 2006 to 2010—consumption fell by about half.

The amount of marijuana consumed increased by more than 30 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Heroin use was fairly stable throughout the decade.

Methamphetamine consumption dramatically increased during the first half of that decade but then declined. Researchers did not have enough information to gauge the drug's use from 2008 to 2010.

“Having credible estimates of the number of heavy drug users and how much they spend is critical for evaluating policies, making decisions about treatment funding, and understanding the drug revenues going to criminal organizations,” said Kilmer.

“This work synthesizes information from many sources to present the best estimates to date for illicit drug consumption and spending in the United States.”

Because the report only generated estimates through 2010, researchers say the report does not address the recent reported spike in heroin use or the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.

The report also does not try to explain the causes behind changes in drug use or evaluate the effectiveness of drug control strategies.

The full study, “What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000–2010,” and additional research briefs are available online.

—Brett Grodeck