A new documentary takes viewers through 40 years of what it calls a failed drug war, featuring the voices of two former presidents who say America's drug policies are all wrong
Breaking the Taboo, which debuts Friday and whose trailer already has 200,000 views on YouTube, is narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, who lauds people like former president Bill Clinton who "have had the guts to change their minds." During the Clinton administration, drug budgets, marijuana arrests and the numbers of those sent to prison on drug charges all spiked.
"If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die and it doesn't solve the problem," former President Bill Clinton says in the film. "It hasn't worked."
In another section of the film, images of President Barack Obama are shown as politicians are accused of being "afraid" of appearing "soft on drugs."
Obama, who promised a compassionate drug policy when first running for president, requested $25.6 billion for drug control in 2013—the highest yearly total ever. Critics say that too much of that money has gone towards enforcement, but the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says much of those funds are intended to go toward prevention and treatment.
"While smart law enforcement efforts will always have a role in combating drug related violence and trafficking, at the end of the day, the drug problem is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue," says Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Obama also notably signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the disparity in sentencing for penalties related to crack and powder cocaine.
The documentary, which says Obama's drug policies aren't working, is being released with the support of celebrities, including actress Kate Winslet and English rapper Dizzee Rascal, as well as the The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of world leaders and thinkers whose members include former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker. The group released a report in 2011 that opened with the line: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."
Former president Jimmy Carter, who also appears in the film, says he believes the current penalties against drug offenders are a major problem. "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself," Carter writes on the film's website.
Produced by Spray Filmes and Sundog Pictures (run by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson's son, Sam), Breaking The Taboo comes on the heels of another anti-drug war documentary released just before the election. The House I Live In also used a celebrity voice to argue against the drug war. David Simon, creator of the TV show The Wire, said in the film: "What drugs haven't done [to people], the war against them has."