Cocaine's Fall and Marijuana's Rise

Questions and Insights Based on New Estimates of Consumption and Expenditures in U. S. Drug Markets

Published in: Addiction, v. 110, no. 5, May 2015, p. 728-736

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Beau Kilmer, Peter H. Reuter, Greg Midgette

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Research Questions

  1. What are the annual estimates of total consumption, total expenditures, and the number of heavy users for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in the U.S.?
  2. Why did U.S. cocaine consumption fall so sharply — roughly 50% — from 2006 to 2010?
  3. Why did marijuana use — particularly daily/near-daily use — rise sharply from 2006 to 2010?

AIMS: Drug policy strategies and discussions often use prevalence of drug use as a primary performance indicator. However, three other indicators are at least as relevant: the number of heavy users, total expenditures and total amount consumed. This paper stems from our efforts to develop annual estimates of these three measures for cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine in the United States. METHODS: The estimates exploit complementary strengths of a general population survey (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) and both survey and urinalysis test result data for arrestees (Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program), supplemented by many other data sources. RESULTS: Throughout the 2000s US drug users spent in the order of $100 billion annually on these drugs, although the spending distribution and use patterns changed dramatically. From 2006 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the United States probably increased by more than 30%, while the amount of cocaine consumed in the United States fell by approximately 50%. These figures are consistent with supply-side indicators, such as seizures and production estimates. For all the drugs, total consumption and expenditures are driven by the minority of users who consume on 21 or more days each month. CONCLUSIONS: Even for established drugs, consumption can change rapidly. The halving of the cocaine market in five years and the parallel (but independent) large rise in daily/near-daily marijuana use are major events that were not anticipated by the expert community and raise important theoretical, research, and policy issues.

Key Findings

  • From 2000-2010, U.S. drug users spent on the order of $100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
  • From 2006-2010, the U.S. cocaine market halved while marijuana use surged.

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