New Documentary Lambasts Drug War, And Obama's Failure To Stop It

Documentary filmmaker says war on drugs under Obama is still a war, just with a different name.

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Two years after he was elected president in 1969, Richard Nixon first used the phrase "war on drugs," in a tough speech on drug policy.

Four decades and more than 40 million drug-related crimes later, the war on drugs is still simmering.

And now, just months before the presidential election, a new documentary "The House I Live In" explores the ways in which that war could be rethought.

The film also implicates President Barack Obama, who promised a compassionate drug policy while running for president but requested $25.6 billion for drug control in 2013—the highest yearly total ever.

"It's still a war, but by another name, packaged with friendlier language," says Eugene Jarecki, who made "The House I Live In." Obama's director of drug control policy, Gil Kerlikowske, has asked not to be called a "drug czar" because of its war-like language, but Jarecki says he needs to do more to give peace a chance.

"Until you stop prosecuting, and until the war on communities is over, I'd rather you call it a war," he says.

Jarecki says Obama has been "frustrating" to those who believed in 2008 that he could "change the world" and the war on drugs.

One scene portrays a woman affected by drugs watching Obama winning the 2008 election in her living room. The insinuation: that Obama could be the president to make a change.

"But a question mark still hovers over Barack Obama," says Jarecki.

GQ's Marc Ambinder recently reported that Obama could make the drug war a focus of his second term, possibly tackling the problem of young children of drug abusers—often minority children—growing up without a home.

Jarecki believes that Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney, would do the opposite. Romney has voiced a commitment to continuing the drug war throughout most of his political career.

Though the film is very much Jarecki's, the biggest voice may be that of David Simon, creator of the TV show "The Wire." "What drugs haven't done [to people] the war against them has," Simon says in the film, noting that the U.S. has incentivized drug enforcement by promoting officers who make more arrests.

Jarecki says the film, out in theaters Oct. 5, was very much intended for election time.

"We only have the war because of election politics," he said. "There is no better time to talk about this."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.