By most accounts, the decades-long war on drugs — which started with Richard Nixon’s presidency, gained momentum during the Ronald Reagan’s years, and has remained a political talking point ever since — has been an utter failure.
A new documentary from filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, “The House I Live In” — winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize — aims to take on the drug war by highlighting the financial and human costs.
Over the past 40 years, enforcement of the war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and resulted in 45 million arrests while the number of drug abusers remains unchanged. But as the domestic drug war rages on in every state in the country, it has remained a topic non grata on the campaign trail.
“It’s almost impossible to find advocates for the failed war on drugs,” Jarecki said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “But candidates don’t want to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole.”
No candidate wants to appear “soft” on the issue of drugs, Jarecki says, since everyone can agree that drugs are bad for individuals and bad for society. But to come out and say that the drug war is a failure is something that very few politicians are willing to do because an alternative solution isn’t easy.
Jarecki hopes that the film will push the public to call for a different course of action.
“The House I Live In” was shot in 20 different cities around the country from New York to New Mexico. Jarecki interviewed a variety of groups involved in the drug war, including police officers, judges, academics, physicians, drug dealers, inmates and their families.
Instead of focusing attention and resources at prevention and treatment of drug abusers, the system penalizes users — and often in an alarmingly draconian way: One of the inmates in the film, for example, is currently serving a life sentence for the nonviolent crime of crystal methamphetamine possession.
The current plan of attack is a vicious cycle of incarceration, release and re-incarceration — a cycle that has not led to eradicating drug use.
The tough war on drugs rhetoric of Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton is something that most politicians have copied. Since it is a political tactic that has worked to gain votes, Jarecki says that the solution has to start with the public.
“The public has to demand a different approach,” he said.
Jarecki said that most of the law enforcement officials and judges that he encountered throughout his research consider themselves on the center-right of the political spectrum, and most see the drug war as a “gigantic waste of federal money.”
“Frankly, more from the center-right, are taking ownership of the issue and the fact that we need to change it,” he said.
Jarecki said that he aligns himself as an Eisenhower Republican, who he believes would view the drug war in a similar way, citing the former president’s quote: “We will destroy from within what we are trying to protect from without.”
The filmmaker said that hammering the drug-war rhetoric is “warping the real execution of public policy” in the U.S., and that the public does not realize that the current way of dealing with drug abuse is simply not working.
By releasing the film in front of the Nov. 6 presidential election, Jarecki hopes that the issue will come to the forefront of the national conversation.
The film opens in New York City on Friday, and will be released in more cities throughout the month of October.