Estimates are developed for the number of people incarcerated in the US for drug-law violations between 1972-2002, broken down by type of institution (federal prison, state prison, or jail) and to the extent possible by nature of drug offense (possession/use, trafficking, or other). These time series are compared to trends in drug use indicators, revealing at best weak correlations, and the absolute levels are compared to different market indicators to draw various inferences. For example, even though about 480,000 people are incarcerated for drug-law violations, on average retail sellers spend less than two hours behind bars per sale. Still, full time sellers might expect to spend three months incarcerated per year of selling, suggesting that there are roughly four active drug sellers for every one who is incarcerated.
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