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Every American president since Nixon has engaged in a �war� on illegal drugs: cocaine, heroin, hashish, and the like. And every president without exception has lost this war. The explanation lies not in a lack of effort- indeed, I believe there has been too much effort- but rather in a basic property of the demand for drugs, and the effects of trying to reduce consumption of a good like drugs by punishing persons involved in its trade. The war on drugs is fought by trying to apprehend producers and distributors of drugs, and then to punish them rather severely if convicted. The expected punishment raises the price that suppliers of drugs need to receive in order for them to be willing to take the considerable risks involved in the drug trade. The higher price discourages purchase and consumption of illegal drugs, as with legal goods and services. The harder the war is fought, the greater the expected punishment, the higher is the street price of drugs, and generally the smaller is the consumption of drugs. Those suppliers who are caught and punished do not do very well, which is the typical result for the many small fry involved in distributing drugs. On the other hand, those who manage to avoid punishment- sometimes through bribes and other corrupting behavior-often make large profits because the price is raised so high. This approach can be effective if say every 10% increase in drug prices has a large negative effect on the use of drugs. This is called an elastic demand. However, the evidence from more than a dozen studies strongly indicates that the demand for drugs is generally quite inelastic; that is, a 10% rise in their prices reduces demand only by about 5%, which means an elasticity of about �. This implies that as drug prices rise, real spending on drugs increases, in this case, by about 5% for every 10% increase in price. So if the war on drugs increased the price of drugs by at least 200%- estimates suggest this increase is about right- spending on drugs would have increased enormously, which it did. This increased spending is related to increased real costs of suppliers in the form of avoidance of detection, bribery payments, murder of competitors and drug agents, primitive and dnagerous production methods, and the like. In addition, the country pays directly in the form of the many police shifted toward fighting drugs, court time and effort spent on drug offenders, and the cost of imprisonment. The US spends about $40,000 per year per prisoner, and in recent years a sizeable fraction of both federal and state prisoners have been convicted on drug-related charges. After totaling all spending, a study by Kevin Murphy, Steve Cicala, and myself estimates that the war on drugs is costing the US one way or another well over $100 billion per year. These estimates do not include important intangible costs, such as the destructive effects on many inner city neighborhoods, the use of the American military to fight drug lords and farmers in Colombia and other nations, or the corrupting influence of drugs on many governments. Assuming an interest in reducing drug consumption- I will pay little attention here to whether that is a good goal- is there a better way to do that than by these unsuccessful wars? Our study suggests that legalization of drugs combined with an excise tax on consumption would be a far cheaper and more effective way to reduce drug use.