Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki on his master class in failed drug policy: ‘The House I live In’

November 8, 2012

Tuesday’s election was not only a big deal for the president. It was also a big day for taking a step away from the long out-dated War on Drugs. According to documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, not only should potheads celebrate the decision by voters to approve the recreational use of marijuana in Washington and Colorado but so should the common citizen, for it marks the first of many steps toward improving the standard of living for everyone.

His new documentary, the House I Live In, which won the jury prize at Sundance this year, explains why this may be the case, as it lays out the many ways the War On Drugs has failed. I spoke to him over the phone ahead of the film’s debut in Miami today for the “Miami New Times”‘ art blog “Cultist.” Read the resulting story here:

We spoke for only 15 minutes and, just like his film, the man is encyclopedic in his knowledge of his subject. It’s not just about facts, but how they are interconnected and what those connections create. But he is also aware this is not an objective film (in reality, there is no such thing, and anyone who claims objectivity should be considered suspect). In regards to his choice of talking heads (which includes the famed creator of “the Wire,” David Simon, among others), Jarecki told me, “A movie like this is a subjective piece of art, and it’s a piece of art about equal things, and I am therefore a student in our culture of all of the people who weigh in on subjects like this, so when I start to tell the stories of people, I want to try to get stories of people who I’ve heard about, read about or found out through word of mouth on my way through the organic process as an investigator. But I then want to put those stories into context, and the context that I’m putting them into is the intellectual-cultural landscape that I’ve been brought up to understand.”

Listening to his explanations proved mesmerizing, just like his film. The connections and information he covers to answer a single question is impressive. The film never seems to lay out any concrete solutions, but, Jarecki said, he leaves it up to the viewer to get involved, and it starts with the ballot box. He says the time has arrived that voters demand politicians change the laws that have tied up law enforcement, placing them on the Rube Goldberg contraption to nowhere that is the War On Drugs. “The public has to learn the drug war and the phrase ‘War on Drugs’ and ‘tough on crime’ are both outmoded phrases that should be laid under the ash heap of history, that both of them failed,” Jarecki said. “The Drug War is one of the most failed public programs in the history of the country and being tough on crime is a recipe for disaster because it ignores that drug use is ultimately a personal problem of personal health, and it ultimately becomes a problem of public health. But it has never been a problem that warrants treatment under criminal law. It has nothing to do with crime. It has nothing to do with morality. We all know people who are addicts in some form or another, and yet some addicts get the book thrown at them and others get to have their obesity treated … so the next time some politician starts pandering to you that they’re gonna get tough on crime, and make you hate your neighbors, so that they can get elected and stay elected, boo them off the stage. Boo and hiss them until they either come back with better behavior or someone replaces them whose gonna talk about how they’ll be smart on crime. Now, that smart on crime requires treatment, it requires a lot of what Portugal did. Portugal has broken the mold on this in the last 10 years, in the world. Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized possession of drugs across the board, left reasonable penalties, and every single leading indicator in Portugal, political, economic and social, has been a giant success ever since. Their criminal justice workload is down. Their HIV rates are down, their drug use rates are down, and in every single way they’ve made that many more tax-paying, contributing citizens out of a population that otherwise would have been vilified or incarcerated. That example is how you deal with an addiction. It’s how all of us would want our addiction dealt with and when we have health insurance and we are comfortable people and we happen to have an addiction, we deal with it through treatment.”

One final thought he shared worth noting: Often people think libertarians like Ron Paul are the solution, but, Jarecki noted, it is more Repblican-types like Paul working together with liberal democrats that will lead to something fruitful. “The libertarians are some of the most staunch supporters of ending the drug war,” Jarecki said, “and they have carried the torch for this alone for too long. The left has carried it and the libertarians have carried it, and I think the libertarians and the left would serve themselves greatly to exploit the areas of common ground that they have, which are many, and the drug war is one of them.”

Hans Morgenstern

The House I live In is not rated (but it is about drugs, and that’s still adult subject matter) and runs 108 min. It opens exclusively in South Florida at Miami’s O Cinema, Thursday Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. To learn how to get involved, visit the film’s website: thehouseilivein.org.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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