The Relationship between the War on Drugs and Crime

28 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2020

Date Written: May 3, 2020


Researchers and policymakers have long considered the War on Drugs with respect to mass incarceration, monetary cost, and impact on minority communities. This paper seeks to take this evaluation one step further and determine whether the War on Drugs policies impact total crime, violent crime, and property crime. Panel data from the years of 1975 to 2002 tracks variables such as drug arrests, determinate sentencing, habitual drug offender laws, minimum sentencing, severity levels for cocaine and marijuana possession, police presence, prison admissions, and more throughout the fifty states. In the OLS, fixed effects, and random effects models, an increased police presence and additional prison admissions contribute to higher crime rates. Increased drug arrests, resulting directly from the War on Drugs, consistently increase overall, violent, and property crime, with significance in every panel data regression. With the exception of determinate sentencing, individual War on Drugs laws, such as minimum sentences, habitual drug laws, and severity levels have mixed results, with no consistent effect on crime rates.

Keywords: War on Drugs, Crime, Drug Arrests, Prison Admissions, Police Presence

JEL Classification: K42, C23, R38, O38

Suggested Citation

Grossi, Jared, The Relationship between the War on Drugs and Crime (May 3, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

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