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More Pot, Less Cocaine: Sizing Up America’s Illicit Drug Market

A crew member from a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter piles up some of the 2,200 pounds of cocaine that was seized during Operation Martillo, worth an estimated $27 million, on April 26, 2013, in Miami
A crew member from a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter piles up some of the 2,200 pounds of cocaine that was seized during Operation Martillo, worth an estimated $27 million, on April 26, 2013, in MiamiPhotograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

America’s illegal drug market is huge. The country spent $109 billion in 2010 on illicit marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, according to new (and very rough) estimates from the RAND Corp. prepared for the White House.

To put that number in perspective: It’s more than we spend at furniture stores ($90 billion) or electronics and appliance retailers ($101 billion) annually, according to U.S. Census data. It’s more than one-fifth of what we spend eating out each year, and it dwarfs the $21 billion we drop at bars.