American Drug War: The Last White Hope
Label: Sacred Cow Productions
Author: Justin 'Tha Shiznute' Chandler
The new film by documentarian Kevin Booth is an all-encompassing look at the American drug trade, with a liberal slant bordering on conspiracy that suggests that our own government strategically overflows the streets with the product in order to further increase the disparity between the elitist rich and the poorest of the poor much in the way that legal pharmaceuticals are managed (or rather mismanaged) to cater to the special interest group. Going a step further is the notion that the title suggests; that there is an inherent racism that undermines the whole thing. The effect his argument has will be greatly determined by your previous disposition on the matter and the overstuffed 118-minute film will not do a whole lot to change your mind on the monumental problem, but may further raise an eyebrow of doubt towards most all government officials.
The film starts off by introducing the unlikely narrator and director, Kevin Booth. He was raised in an upper-class suburb and as a child was often confronted with his father's right-winged standpoint. Through adolescence he was fine with the disposition, but in the film he subtly pieces together his own progression in questioning things, especially after he shares that a couple of his family members (including his Father) have passed away due to the long-term effects of legal substances like alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs. Usually emotional injustices like this will cause anyone associated to denounce the use of such substances, but his thought process is quite different in that he believes all drugs should be legalized as suggested by a interviewee's quote, 'prohibition never works as well as regulation and/or legalization.'
Some of these arguments are substantial, but such comments as 'kids can get heroine and cocaine easier than alcohol and cigarettes,' are bogus. I'm a fairly young man myself and I can verify that this was not the case 10 years ago whilst I was in the prime of my experimental youth. The major change since a decade ago would be the increased use of synthetically created drugs such as meth and ecstasy, which is an issue brought to attention in the movie.
As the United States continues its decades-long drug war, the number of people needing drug addiction help doesn't seem to be shrinking one bit.
The real stem of the problem with the war on drugs is noted as private organizations like GEC that are the profiteers of the prison industry. Such companies construct, organize and help fill these prisons to maximum occupancy with non-violent drug offenders. This is particularly a problem in small rural towns that in some way lost their primary industry and turned to the prison systems. The film argues that with each President the number of this incarcerated lot balloons higher and higher (even the popular Bill Clinton had staggeringly high numbers due to the appointment of his leader on this war in Cafferty, so it is not just a Republican thing), but could that not be a result of the increasing use of illegal substances? Still, it is hard to strongly argue the case that we need to imprison these people to the tune of billions of dollars per year and the idea that these private prisons do better on the stock market the more people they have locked up is certainly sickening. Furthermore, companies like GEC double-dip by having their inmates work the fields at unbelievably low rates to turn around and sell whatever is cultivated, kind of like a modern day slave field. There can be a really strong analogy drawn here to the war on terror and companies like Halliburton, as banks also gain by laundering the money from the street dealers.
Where there are more questions than answers is when the movie gets too involved in this higher level of government cover-up because it is mostly speculation. That is not to say that some of the arguments are not convincing. Booth interviews ex-CIA operatives that admit to having been involved in such international dealings that helped leaders like Noriega smuggle drugs to the States. The leaders of the Iran-Contra debacle are many of the same leaders in office today, which really is no surprise given the fact that they were mostly appointed by Bush and if you consider Washington like any work environment--it is rare to see someone demoted (admittedly, this is on a whole different scale than what the average person is subject to). Other presidents like Nixon and Reagan are scathed too, as Nixon is said to have started the DEA to distract public attention away from his war on Cambodia, while Reagan in a social context holds a sign that urges the American public to help implement cocaine laws to keep black men off white women that says, 'keep darky down.' Booth argues that this negative campaigning against the legalization of drugs is actually an advertisement for them and creates a higher interest in experimentation for adolescent children.
The arguments do not represent a fair balance in any way. He glorifies figures like Tommy Chong and the much worse, the real 'Freeway' Ricky Ross. Rick Ross was a man that basically commercialized crack cocaine to the hoods to help earn him and his crew as the 'Wal-Mart of Crack'. The documentary paints him as a man that is merely a product of his environment, that takes what is given to him and makes money with it to fulfill the 'American dream,' because he somehow had a contact (another supposed Government supplier) that gave him a nearly endless supply. However, this argument is flimsy and too based on the economics of the situation and not the moral fiber that the average American would have even with such access, especially after seeing the devastating results on the community.
Then, of course, the anti-drug policy argument is represented by old footage of bumbling old politicians in suits as to suggest they have no good reason, or see no negative correlation with drugs to want to eliminate them. Another representation on the side that wants to continue the fight on drugs is a Southern redneck who admits to being a racist. Or, a celebrated Sheriff in Arizona named Arpaio who says that 'America is the best country in the world! If we start a war, we can win it,' which currently has some pretty moronic implications.
The movie covers so many aspects of the war on drugs that it can sometimes feel thinly spread even over the course of its relatively long runtime. The suggested solution is still a questionable matter, though. The success of decriminalization is shown by the lack of violence in the streets of Holland, who legalized all organic drugs, thus making them 'boring' to the citizens that live there. Was Holland ever really a violent country though? Booth even interviews a crack head to prove his point; the crack head says that the fact that you cannot legally obtain crack cocaine in the streets of America is a bad thing, so it must be true, this only coming from a doper after all. The opinionative narrator also states that America treats marijuana users the same way they treat people found in possession of cocaine or heroine, which again is not true. People are sentenced by the amount possessed and harshness of the substance, meaning that you are going to go away for a lot longer if you are caught with the hard stuff. Prohibition of drugs is compared to the prohibition of alcohol which caused crime waves and the urge for people to self-produce alcoholic concoctions, but do we really want to legalize everything? Perhaps pot should be legalized, but the clear answer should really rely on the decriminalization of non-violent users, therefore lessening the burden on the taxpayer.
The extras on this DVD consist of lots more interviews and discussion that did not make the original cut totaling in about 3 hours of material, even though more could have hit the cutting room floor while editing the final film. Meanwhile the cover is symbolic brilliance as it shows the soldiers of the Iwo Jima pose holding a rolled up Benjamin (like what a user would snort with) over a mound of white powder.
The filmmaker, Kevin Booth, has a huge scope in the film and he has difficulty covering every aspect of the war on drugs effectively. However, he does stay true to his very liberal viewpoint and makes arguments that may not convince you that we should just let go of the war on drugs, but at very least get the audience to think about the possible deep-seeded connections with racism and our corrupt government.
Content: 6 of 10
Layout: 7.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: June 10, 2008