Analysis: Why Drug Porn Isn't Exciting Anymore

When law enforcement agencies make marijuana busts, they're just doing their job, according to the DEA's Carreno. "If indeed the public does not want this, they can tell their congressman and Congress can change the law," she said. "We do what the law says."

Public opinion about the drug war may be checkered, but there are still financial reasons to hold a press conference after a bust, according to Art Benavie, the author of Drugs: America's Holy War, and an economics professor at the University of North Carolina.

"The purpose is [for law enforcement] to show you that they're doing a good job so that they can get more money for their budgets and a better attitude toward them in general," Benavie said.

Mangan echoed that sentiment saying that seizures that get media attention are useful when enforcement officials are working on getting a budget.

Big busts can amount to a lot of money. The drugs on the table usually only speak to a small portion of what can be seized after a drug bust. Federal law allows the government to sue for possession of assets related to drug crimes, and the windfall can be enormous. The total amount of assets taken by the U.S. Attorneys' Office for drug violations and crimes such as money laundering, racketeering and fraud went from roughly $314 million in 2005 to $1.8 billion in 2010.

The gains in assets don't necessarily translate into more success, according to reform advocates like Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"We know these photos don't mean anything in the bigger picture," he said. "There's a tremendous history of having ever-greater seizures...without it having any effect on price or availability in the United States."

Research published in 2011 by professors at the University of Chicago shows that even though the likelihood of a dealer getting arrested has increased fivefold over the past 25 years, the street value of cocaine and heroin, with the value adjusted to account for the purity of the drug, has dropped substantially since the 1980s. The lower price suggests that the drugs are actually more plentiful, according to a 2005 report by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center.

According to Nadelmann, the photos give the impression that the drug war is working, even while drugs are actually getting cheaper and possibly more plentiful.

The pics allow law enforcement to "feel good about themselves," Nadelmann said. "The best possible thing to happen would be if the media did not show up at those press conferences."

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