Story: Kevin Booth’s interest in the government’s war on drugs was a deeply personal one, as he lost several family members to addiction related to “legal” drugs, like alcohol and prescription pills. He would even battle addiction issues of his own, so he wanted to dive deep and pull back the curtain on what has been an unmitigated failure on behalf of the United States government. In American Drug War, we hear from countless people involved first hand in the war on drugs, from narcotics agents to drug dealers to politicians to users, all of whom have a unique perspective on the situation. Even Tommy Chong is involved, though he gives his interview while behind bars in a privately owned prison, after being jailed over glass pipes. This two hour documentary goes beyond the bullet points to show us the real impact of this failed, wasteful war.
Entertainment Value: This documentary was released in 2007 and in the years since, America’s war on drugs has only proven to be even more futile and failed. American Drug War examines the situation in a fairly in depth manner, with both larger scale elements like the CIA’s involvement in the crack epidemic to smaller scale, more personal perspectives. That proves to be one of this documentary’s greatest strengths, providing numerous perspectives from all different angles pertaining to the drug war, as it helps paint a more complete picture. Of course, this piece makes many arguments against drug prohibition, so if you’re anti-drug, you’ll likely be frustrated here. Especially since the case made is so compelling and driven by facts and evidence, points which have only been further proven in the years that have passed since this was first released. The documentary tracks the demonization of cannabis, cocaine’s rise, the crack epidemic, heroin’s place in the war, and of course, how meth seemed to overtake the bulk of the illegal drug trade. Seeing the patterns that emerge as these different eras are investigated can be downright eerie, especially the government involvement in it all.
The interview subjects are diverse and as I said above, help provide a wealth of perspectives on the war on drugs. Tommy Chong’s jailhouse interview makes a good inclusion, coupled with interviews with his family that help flesh out his ridiculous arrest and incarceration. That someone could be arrested, jailed, and have their property stolen over selling some glass pipes is insane, so these interviews help reveal the sheer desperation involved on the government side. You even hear from Ricky Ross, who shares his memories of the days he ran he streets, though we also find out he had some help, even if he didn’t know it at the time. Also featured in interviews are General Barry McCaffrey, podcaster Joe Rogan, Ron Paul, judges, politicians, law enforcement officials, and cannabis enthusiasts, so this documentary covers a lot of ground. The most outlandish person here is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is a total clown and rambles off one uneducated comment after another. While he claims he had to step over bodies in the streets while in Holland because of the rampant drug problems, we’re shown the real Amsterdam, which is nothing like what the sheriff postured. In the end, this is a well made, well researched piece that is highly recommended to those interested in the subject matter.