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Despite $12 Billion Spent, Did New Jersey’s War on Drugs Fail?

The Law Office of Joel M. Bacher June 12, 2021

A few weeks ago marked the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” effort. Despite national and statewide efforts to discourage drug use, catch offenders and incarcerate drug convicts, a recent study indicates that these tactics proved unsuccessful in New Jersey. The study also found that the state spent nearly $12 billion dollars in its anti-drug endeavors.

More than 10 Years of Drug Policy Examined

The New Jersey Policy Perspective group produced an in-depth report on state budget spending for arrests, prosecution and incarceration for drug offenders. It found that in the past 10 years, the state spent $11.6 billion to enforce the war on drugs — an annual average of $1.2 billion. It also found that New Jersey had a higher rate of drug-related incarceration than any other state in the U.S.

Alarmingly, though, the use of controlled substances remains rampant. The rate of overdose deaths has doubled for white drug users, tripled for Black users and quadrupled for Latino users. Although drug-related arrests are on the rise, the report states that these arrests tend not to decrease drug possession or distribution.

What Is the Future of The War on Drugs?

Public opinion on drug use has changed rapidly. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in New Jersey, arrests and incarceration for cannabis-related crime will likely plummet. However, the penalties for other drug violations are still incredibly strict.

The court system does not always consider the influence of addiction on criminal activity. Judges often punishes convicts with jail time rather than alternative sentencing. It may take a long time for law enforcement agencies, policymakers and court officials to catch up to the changing perspectives on drug use. When it does, though, New Jersey may shift its efforts from punishing drug crime to rehabilitating offenders.