The amount of money spent by Americans on cannabis, cocaine, and heroin in 2016 reached $150 billion, according to a RAND Corporation report. The study showed that most of the spending came from a small share of people who use drugs on a daily or near-daily basis.
The amount spent on these four drugs fluctuated between $120 and $145 billion per year between 2006 and 2016, according to the research. This is comparable with the $158 billion spent by Americans on alcohol in 2017, according to a different analysis.
"To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and the effects of policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in markets for these substances," said Greg Midgette, the study's lead author, an assistant professor at University of Maryland and an adjunct policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization
Apart from estimating expenditures on drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, researchers from RAND used a variety of sources of information about drug use and drug prices to also estimate the number of people who use these substances and how much they consume, and how much they spend on consumption.
Looking specifically at cannabis, from illegal and state-licensed sources, the report showed its spending increased by 50% from 2006 to 2016, going from $34 to $52 billion. The market for cannabis is roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined.
From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used cannabis in the past month increased by nearly 30 percent, from 25 million to 32 million, according to the report.
At the same time however, the consumption of cocaine dropped from 2006 to 2015 and then picked up in 2016, the report showed. There were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four more or days in the past month in 2015 and 2016, the results show.
The consumption of heroin increased by approximately 10 percent per year between 2010 and 2016, according to the analysis. Whereas most heroin consumed in the United States comes from poppies grown in Mexico, the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin.
There was a steady increase in the amount of heroin seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2016. Changes in the composition of heroin users, potentially involving increased use among individuals without criminal histories, have increased the uncertainty underlying these estimates.
Estimates about methamphetamine use are subject to the greatest uncertainty, largely because national data sets do a particularly poor job of capturing its use, the researchers explain. The federal government discontinued a critical data collection effort in 2003, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring, or ADAM.
"While there is considerable uncertainty surrounding national methamphetamine estimates, multiple indicators suggest methamphetamine use has exceeded its previous peak around 2005," concludes Beau Kilmer, co-author of the report and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.