Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eugene Jarecki and the Case for Legalization

Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki is my newest hero. His recent documentary, The House I Live in, is about the U.S. drug war and its effects. Sounds dry, maybe, but it's not. Here's the trailer:

And here's Jarecki synthesizing in about two minutes everything that's wrong with criminalizing drugs, and what can be done about it (he starts speaking at 2:00):

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Here's  my transcript of what Jarecki had to say:
I think the word legalization is scary for most people. I think it's smarter to talk about it as tax and regulate, which is what you saw happen in Washington State, and it's also how the British look at it.

Portugal decriminalized drugs -- all drugs -- possession 10 years ago. Every single result in Portuguese society has been a huge success. Drug use among the young is down, HIV rates are down, violence is down, and the work load of the criminal justice system has dropped precipitously. The huge savings that they have from that, they've taken just a small part of that and made one of the most robust treatment systems in the world.

And Portugal's success is a symbol to the world right now, where America is looked at as having a very primitive policy. Our policy is "tough on crime." We took drug addiction, broadly, 40 years ago, and instead of dealing with it as a health matter, we dealt with it as a criminal matter.

Our results -- look at them by contrast. 40 years, a trillion dollars spent, 45 million drug arrests, and today drugs are cheaper, purer, more available, and more in use by younger and younger people than ever before.

So we have a record of abject failure and the only thing it has produced, is made us the world's largest jailer with 2.3 million people behind bars. And we know about the disproportion of African Americans and minorities within that.

So the real question for me is, this is a giant human rights crisis within America, decimating poor communities across the country, now increasingly white communities are being targeted for methamphetamines and prescription drugs…

The small marijuana victories show that the public taste, the public opinion on this has shifted. The public doesn't want to see us waste billions criminalizing nonviolent people as if they were violent. That's the key.
(I love a person who can produce so much coherent thought on demand without notes or hesitation. A skill I lack in big way.)

As another guest on the show said, we should take away 90 percent of the money from drug enforcement and prisons and put it into treatment, and see what happens. Given the Portugal experiment, it sounds like that's a good idea.

Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to see The House I Live in. It's not playing anywhere closer than Chicago or Iowa City currently.

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