A great deal of time and money as well as man-power is spent on chasing after people using, possessing and trafficking in drugs. Since 1990, there have been 6.2 million arrests for marijuana possession and 1 million for marijuana trafficking.
Up to 2002, marijuana arrests comprised 45 percent of all drug arrests.
These figures account for almost half of all drug arrests in the United States, which spends $4 billion a year to catch, prosecute and incarcerate offenders, according to a report by The Sentencing Project.
It also found that of the 734,000 marijuana arrests in 2000, only 6 percent resulted in a conviction. Marijuana arrests more than doubled, from 327,000 to 697,000 from 1990 to 2002, while arrests for other drugs rose by only 10 percent.
The Washington think tank, which promotes alternatives to imprisonment, said daily use of the drug by high school seniors nearly tripled to 6 percent from 2.2 percent during the years 1990 to 2002. Meanwhile, the street price of the drug has fallen in real terms and its purity has increased.
Ryan King, co-author of the report says the 'war on drugs' has been transformed into a 'war on marijuana' through dramatic shifts in law enforcement policies and practices, and says arresting such large numbers at an annual cost of $4 billion was a poor investment in public safety and diverted resources from more serious crime problems.
The White House drug policy office denies this with Jennifer Devallance saying it was inaccurate to portray the "war on drugs" as focused on a single substance, and that marijuana is however the drug most abused in the US and the single largest source of treatment need, so it is appropriate to focus effort and attention on marijuana. She disputes the report's contention that marijuana use has increased, citing figures from a survey of high school teens showing it was down 18 percent over the past three years.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch - the U.S. Government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in another report also released this week, finds that adults who first used marijuana before the age of 12 were twice as likely to suffer from mental illness later in life than those who used the drug at age 18 or older.
This data comes from an annual survey on drug use which found that 43 percent of U.S. adults, almost 91 million people, had used marijuana at least once in their lives.
White House drug advisor John Walters says that new research illustrates that marijuana use, particularly during the teen years, can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide and schizophrenia.