Costs & Harms to Society

The Senate Committee concluded that the prohibition on marijuana:

  • causes substantial harms to society:
  • It is fantastically expensive to maintain
  • it marginalizes otherwise law-abiding citizens
  • it reduces respect for the law
  • it enriches organized crime, causing increased levels of corruption and violence in our communities.

Over $1.5 billion in taxpayers’ money is being spent, each year, to fund a policy that results in more violence and corruption in our neighbourhoods, and less security for Canadians. This is definitely not a formula for Safe Streets & Communities.

Is this acceptable to you?


Excerpts from the Senate Report on Cannabis about the costs and harms to society from the policy of cannabis prohibition:


“Clearly, current approaches are ineffective and inefficient. Ultimately, their effect amounts to throwing taxpayers’ money down the drain in a crusade that is not warranted by the danger posed by the substance.”

Page 610 Vol 3 – Conclusions: Ineffectiveness of the Current Approach


In addition to being ineffective and costly, criminalization leads to a series of harmful consequences: users are marginalized and exposed in a discriminatorily fashion to the risk of arrest and to the criminal justice system; society sees organized crime enhance their power and wealth by benefiting from prohibition; and governments see their ability to conduct prevention of at-risk use diminished. Page 614 Vol 3 – Conclusions: A Public Health Policy


Costs of cannabis

  • The costs of all illegal drugs had risen to close to $1.4 billion in 1992.
  • Of the total costs of illegal drugs at that time, externalities (social costs) represented 67% and public policy costs 33%.
  • We believe both the social costs of illegal drugs and the public policy costs to be underestimated.
  • We estimate the cost of enforcing the drug laws to be closer to $1-1.5 billion per annum.
  • The principal public policy cost relative to cannabis is law enforcement and the justice system; we estimate this to represent a total of $300-$500 million per annum.
  • The costs of externalities attributable to cannabis are probably minimal (no deaths, few hospitalizations, and very little loss of productivity).
  • The costs of public policy on cannabis are disproportionately high given the drug’s social and health consequences.

Page 436 Vol 2 Ch 18 – Conclusions: Costs of cannabis


The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) undertook the latest major study of the costs of drug abuse in Canada. This study was published in 1996 and relates to 1992 data. Law enforcement costs were estimated as:
– Police $208.3M
– Courts $59.2M
– Corrections (including probation) $123.8M
– Customs and Excise $9.0M
Total law enforcement costs $400.3M

Page 329
Vol 2 Ch 14 – Police Practices: Costs


The Auditor General’s 2001 report estimated that the RCMP alone spent approximately $164 million in 1999 on enforcement of laws on illicit drugs. The $164 million applies only to RCMP federal policing services, however, and not to the policing services rendered by the RCMP under contract to a province or municipality, which account for the largest share of the force’s budget. We were told that, at present, it was not possible to ascertain the costs related to the enforcement of laws on illicit drugs for the latter functions.”

Pg 330 Vol 2 Ch 14 – Police Practices: Costs


As indicated above, given the fact that drug investigations are extremely resource intensive, drug enforcement may be assumed to represent much more than 3.5% of policing budgets. Chief Fantino of the Toronto Police Service indicated that it was probably closer to 33% of his budget. Even if a conservative number such as 15% were used, the figure for provincial and municipal policing costs would increase to $750 million.  This would mean that almost $1 billion is being spent on drug enforcement in Canada every year.

Pg 332 Vol 2 Ch 1 – Police Practices: Costs


As a final point, treatment is more effective and certainly less expensive than incarceration. In Canada, it is estimated that the cost of applying the drug court process is approximately $4,500 per person whereas imprisonment costs an average of $47,000. Even with a success rate of 15%, there can be no doubt that treatment both benefits society and better reflects the real needs of offenders who have problems of dependency.

Page 425 Vol 2 Ch 17 – Treatment Practices: Effectiveness 0f Treatment