HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Popular 'Traffic' Driving Country's Drug Debate
Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2001
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2001 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Contact:  P.O. Box 661, Milwaukee, WI 53201
Fax: 414-224-8280
Author: Frank Davies, Knight Ridder Newspapers


Film Has Jolted Policy Talk In Way Leaders Haven't

Washington - "Traffic," a gritty, Oscar-nominated movie that was shot
partially with a hand-held camera, is having more impact on the debate
over drug policy than any public official, including President Bush.

One reason for that is the president says little about the

The other reason is the movie's popularity. It has earned $102.5
million in 12 weeks of release, could win best picture at the Academy
Awards on Sunday and has jolted the discussion in the nation's capital
over what to do about illegal drugs.

"Traffic" is a sprawling, ambitious look at how drugs cripple the
lives of many people: a courageous Mexican cop trying to survive
rampant corruption; U.S. drug agents struggling to stem a flood tide
of smuggling; and a drug czar, played by Michael Douglas, devastated
by his daughter's drug addiction and disillusioned by empty rhetoric.

"Right now, a movie is bringing drug issues into the forefront of the
public debate, not the president," said Manon McKinnon, a conservative
drug policy analyst who supports Bush.

"The film has moved the debate over drugs from the op-ed pages into
the popular culture," said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for
Drug Policy, which opposes many current drug laws. "(Director) Stephen
Soderbergh has tapped into the public's unease about what government
is doing. "

And government is responding, or at least talking about it. Critics of
the drug war say the movie exposes the futility of costly efforts to
stop smuggling. Some activists, including supporters of interdiction,
praise the film for its graphic depiction of a teenager in the throes
of addiction and prostitution.

In recent weeks, Washington has seen this impact:

- -- President Andres Pastrana of Colombia arranged a screening of
"Traffic" for members of Congress, diplomats and policy-makers.

- -- At a hearing on a bill to spend $900 million more for drug
prevention and treatment, including money for community programs and
prisons, senators cited the movie as a common reference point.

- -- One by one, officials are taking in the movie, often with younger
family members. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) saw it with his 16-year-old

"It had a very powerful effect; it's caused me to rethink our policies
and priorities," he later told commentator Arianna Huffington.

- -- On the ABC show "20/20," Barbara Walters asked Bush about the movie
and "its premise that the war on drugs is a failure, and many
Americans feel that way. Can a president do anything about that?"

Bush, who once overcame a drinking problem, responded: "I think we
need to examine all policies in terms of treatment. I think we ought
to focus on treatment programs that work."

Acclaimed by most reviewers, the film also has its critics. Sen.
Joseph Biden (D-Del.) described it as "simplistic and wrong."

Groups that are pushing to decriminalize drug use say "Traffic" has
boosted their cause. Ethan Nadelman, who heads the Lindesmith Center
- -- Drug Policy Foundation, likened the movie to "Dead Man Walking,"
which got people talking about the death penalty. Others compare it to
"The China Syndrome," which questioned the safety of nuclear power
plants; the movie was released on March 16, 1979 -- 12 days before the
meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in

"Films, late-night talk shows -- that's how many people get
information these days," said Zeese, of Common Sense for Drug Policy.
"This movie doesn't preach, but it gets your attention and makes
people think."
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