In 2003, the U.S. Government will spend over $19.2 billion, about $609 per second, on the War on Drugs. State and local governments will spend at least another $20 billion. People arrested for drug law violations in 2003 are expected to exceed the 1.5 million arrests of the year 2000, with someone arrested every 20 seconds. – http://www.drugsense.org
When does output actually match outcome?
The presentation outlining the war on drugs is fascinating in the aspect of political agenda being disguised under the blanket of social, moral and public health responsibility (Whitford & Yates, 2009). The financial outlay appears to reflect a desire to sustain industry instead of implementing effective change. It is a tool to promote political agenda with the media aspect having the necessary concomitant effect of distributing wealth into the advertising industry and maintaining a system of bias against the poorest end user in the ‘heinous’ drug model.
In September 2003, the Senate voted to slash $50 million from the anti-drug advertising campaign, cutting the total amount by a third to $100 million, citing previous reports questioning the campaign’s effectiveness. The committee also included language in the bill that would require 80 percent of the media campaign spending be dedicated to media advertising (Belch).
As a strategy used to empower set agendas it is excellent and utilizes many mediums to promote its point. These include political rhetoric, media and blanket advertising. The campaign engages persuasion through the strong mediums of advertising to engender politics with a moral high ground amongst the voting public without having to commit to effective and controversial education and health care initiatives (Peavie, 2001). As a campaign to effectively combat drugs it fails but this is not necessarily the real goal or desired outcome. The system it supports involves myriad corporates from the advertising industry mentioned above to the law enforcement and private correctional systems that thrive in America and have expanded globally. Many American towns and cities survive off the livelihood of the prison system and so do the thousands of businesses that attend and promote their services at the annual trade-show of the American Corrections Association (www.aca.org).
A snapshot of the system is outlined by the Drug Policy Alliance (2001):
The U.S. “war on drugs” is big business — a multi-billion dollar public/private venture that radically inflates the value of illegal drugs and is used to criminalize the poorest people of color, trapping them in a vicious cycle of addiction, unemployment and incarceration:
• $27 billion for interdiction and law enforcement, $1.3 billion for Plan Colombia in 2000.
• $9.4 billion in 2000 to imprison close to 500,000 people convicted of non-violent drug offenses, 75% of whom are Black.
• $80 to $100 billion in lost earnings.
• Untold billions in homeless shelters, healthcare, chemical dependency and psychiatric treatment, etc.
Advertising and the media industry are key players in assisting this political agenda. Communicators use their talents and skills to sustain their own interests and promote bias systems that tap into the core of unresolved social unrest and prejudice. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults (The Economist, July 2010) this amount includes a large proportion on non-violent drug related offences and extremes in law, such as the 3,700 people who committed neither violent nor serious crimes that are serving life sentences under California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law. As a knock-on effect to the war on drugs marketing and communication strategy, is the distribution of voting misinformation. The majority of Americans with a criminal record believe they are not eligible to vote, these disfranchisement policies and confusion and are not lucidly communicated. In many cases once a sentence is complete an individual may apply for reinstatement (ACLU, 2008). There are 47 million Americans with criminal records and an average yearly arrest rate of 11% for non-violent drug possession (DrugWarFacts.org, 2010) the war on drugs has contributed greatly to promoting political agenda over social justice policy. As communicators we must be honest about our contribution and not merely review case studies as marketing strategy success or failure scenarios.
Belch, M.A., & G.E. (2004). Using Advertising to Fight the War on Drugs: The Power of Social Marketing or a Waste of Money?
McVay, D.A. (Editor) & Borden, M.J. (2010). Drug War Facts (6th Ed). http://www.drugwarfacts.org.
Retrieved October 21, 2010 from http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Crime
Peavie, B.K. (2001). United States war on drugs: Addicted to a political strategy of no end.
Defense Technical Information Centre. Retrieved from
Rough justice in America (2010, July 22). The Economist. Retrieved October 17, 2010 from
The U.S. War on Drugs: Political economics of a new slavery (2001, August). Drug Policy Alliance.
Retrieved October 24, 2010 from http://www.drugpolicy.org/about/position/race_paper_econ.cfm
Voting with a criminal record – executive summary (2008, October 1). American Civil Liberties Union.
Retrieved October 23, 2010 from
Whitford, A.B. & Yates, J. (2009, April). Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda: Constructing the War on Drugs
Political Communication (Vol 27, Iss 2), 225 – 227, Routledge.