Stat of the Month: Narcotics by numbers - $320bn

The annual value of the global illegal drug industry

Despite the best efforts of the International Opium Commission 100 years ago and the declaration of the UN in 1998 that it would achieve 'a drug-free world', the illegal drugs trade is still rife, raking in an estimated $320bn a year. It's not for want of effort. The US spends $40bn a year trying to keep drugs off its streets, and about 1.5 million of its citizens are arrested each year on drugs offences. In Mexico, more than 800 police and soldiers have been killed since December 2006 in drugs-related incidents.

Far from easing the problem, prohibition has only made things worse. Some say legalisation would drive away the gangsters and change drug-trafficking from a law-and-order problem to a more manageable public-health problem. Governments could tax and regulate the trade. The funds raised (and the cash saved on policing) could help in treating addiction and educating the public about the risks of drug-taking. A recent study by drugs reform group Transform reckoned a legalised, regulated market could save the UK £11bn annually. And with government coffers looking decidedly depleted, the cash would certainly come in handy ...

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