Illegal drugs and the efforts to combat them have had a damaging impact on both the United States and foreign countries. In the United States, there has been a costly and otiose "war on drugs" since the presidency of Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. Other countries have waged their own futile campaigns against the scourge of drugs.
The economic cost has been huge, and it is the poor who typically bear its greatest cost. The drug trade has exacerbated economic inequality in various nations. However, the public in all nations support politicians who pledge to "get tough" on drugs—regardless of adverse economic consequences.
In the Philippines, police officers have an economic incentive to kill drug users, and they even get a share of funeral directors' profits. Thousands of Filipinos have been killed on the streets since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, and almost all of the victims were extremely poor. The money spent by Manila on this immoral and egregious policy did not boost the nation's economy. The funds could have helped the country's poor had they been allocated for a different purpose. Duterte remains extremely popular—in spite of the carnage.
In Honduras—another desperately poor country—money laundering of drug barons' profits does not help the economy. The Rosenthals, a leading Honduran family, have been implicated in—and convicted of—drug crimes. That family could have used its influence and wealth to ameliorate Honduras' desperate poverty, but the Rosenthals chose to ally themselves with drug cartels.
In the United States, too many young men—especially indigent black men—have criminal records from drug possession. These men are usually not able to obtain gainful employment and are a drain on the economy.
Some states are beginning to address this problem. For example, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker pardoned thousands of men who had records for marijuana possession. This happened as part of that state's legalization of marijuana in 2020. Illinois' new policy will bring in millions of dollars for the state every year, and it should have positive economic consequences for the state.