Pubdate: Wed, 05 Dec 2012
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell


Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, whose new documentary pillories America's
failed "war on drugs," is cautiously encouraged by the apparent shift
in public attitude represented by Colorado and Washington voting to
legalize marijuana and California opting to soften its "insane"
three-strikes law.

"While there is progress, it has to be seen in the context of what is
needed, which is a larger revolution in the way America deals with
drugs," Jarecki said in a phone interview prior to the Canadian
premiere of The House I Live In this week in Toronto.

"I want the victories. I wouldn't trade them for the world. But I
don't want anyone to misunderstand them lest they think that the war
has been won when it's really just a couple of battles."

The film captured a Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film
Festival and is receiving rave reviews both internationally and south
of the border. Forbes magazine called it the most important drug film
ever made.

It is playing this week at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and will open
there for a longer run on Jan. 6. Executive producers include Brad
Pitt, Danny Glover and hip hop legend Russell Simmons.

The numbers highlighted in the film are staggering: America has spent
$1 trillion, arresting 45 million citizens ever since then president
Richard Nixon declared drug abuse "public enemy number one" in 1971.

And what does the country have to show for it?

"Drugs are cheaper, purer, more available than ever before and we have
2.3 million people in prison, more than any country on Earth, and the
highest rates of addiction," Jarecki said.

He argues anti-drug laws have never been about drugs but about racial
control, dating back to the 1800s when lawmakers introduced laws
banning opium smoked by Chinese immigrants, who were seen to be taking

Starting in the late '60s, the war shifted to African-Americans who
today make up about 13 per cent of the U.S. population and 14 per cent
of its drug users, while representing 56 per cent of those
incarcerated for drug crimes.

Those living in public housing are an easy target for law enforcement
seeking "low-hanging fruit," Jarecki said.

"A white guy taking cocaine in the privacy of his comfortable home . .
. is far less likely to come into contact with a law enforcement
officer than a black person in public housing."

The drug war has been a success in one sense. It has produced
"entrenched bureaucracies, economic and political, who co-operate and
feed upon the mechanics of war, the same way the military-industrial
complex that emerged to profit from war-making in our society," he

In both cases, "thousands and thousands of jobs depend on

The film includes heart-wrenching interviews with people devastated by
the drug war, including the film's inspiration, Nannie Jeter, who
helped look after Jarecki and his brother when they were growing up
but whose own children were drawn into a world of drugs and violence.

But what really stands out are interviews with disaffected law
enforcement officials, including a judge and corrections officials -
one is a self-described tough-on-crime advocate ("I'd opt for 10 cop
cars over one soup kitchen") - who have decided there must be a
smarter way to tackle drug abuse.

Jarecki is showing his film inside dozens of U.S. prisons. That the
tour was sanctioned by corrections officials is a measure, perhaps, of
an attitude shift south of the border, which can no longer afford mass

"We're seeing an incredible outpouring of mixed emotions at these
screenings," he said.

Many of the prisoners are serving lengthy terms for non-violent drug

Jarecki doesn't know a lot about Canada but questions why a country
which "prides itself on a robust, social democratic system" has
recently introduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences no
matter what the circumstances.

"Oh Canada, you guys do a lot of things right. Keep it that way.
Following us down the road to perdition we followed in the drug war
would be extremely ill advised."

Jarecki has a last thought before hanging up.

"Maybe I should retitle the movie for Canada, called 'Don't Live in
This House.' "
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