A War Without Clear Enemies

A War Without Clear Enemies

In the battle against drugs, is myopia the real adversary?

We have been “fighting the war on drugs” for decades it seems, but has anyone ever stopped to ask who are the “enemies” in this war? After all, to wage war, there must be adversaries.

Is the foe the indigenous Thai tribesman and the impoverished Afghan farmer, who are the suppliers of much of what is consumed in the West that is called “drugs?” Are they pitted in battle against urban youth and vulnerable children in cities and towns throughout Middle America?

Surely these poor peasants are not our enemies. Like tillers of the soil around the world since time immemorial, they respond to the call of simple market forces of demand and economics. They grow what they can to keep body and soul together. If that crop turns out to be opium poppies and not watermelons, how are they to blame? They are simply reacting to what consumers are asking for.

Those consumers—the ultimate customers—are not a few miles down a rocky mountain road, but are half-way around the world in the faraway cites of Los Angeles and Amsterdam and their clients are, for the most part people, kids, who have never seen a farm and would never recognize a poppy if they saw one.

Something has gone terribly wrong when people cause harm—even death—to each other without ever knowing who the other party is or that they are even engaged in a “war.” When such tragedy occurs, there can only be one way out. To look to a higher authority for help.

While, in some people’s eyes, God might be the ultimate answer, more practical-minded souls would point to government. After all, isn’t this what governments are for? To deal with problems that are bigger than all of us? We elect leaders and pay taxes for the very reason that they are supposed to rescue us from our own follies whether intentional or unplanned.

“The War on the War on Drugs” looks at what our government has done to bring us out of this black hole and concludes that it has only made matters worse. Through a series of madcap skits and “Saturday Night Live” copy-cat sketches, this quirky film tries to show us—by making us laugh—that leaving everything alone would have been cheaper and better for all concerned. Why outlaw these substances, the film asks, when other equally lethal products are perfectly legal? Alcohol, prescription drugs and cigarettes are far more harmful and have accounted for many more deaths than cannabis, opium, heroin and the variety of other recreational drugs currently in popular use. Could it be that the “legal” drugs are allowed because they are tied to corporate interests and their profit-making machines?

During the 74-minute smorgasbord of mock training films, 1950s sci-fi flick send-ups, satirical newsreels and kiddie educational shows, we are peppered with statistics that tell us: that of over 1.5 million drug arrests in the U.S. in 2000, 47 per cent were for marijuana; that students who have gone through the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program are more likely to use illegal drugs than students who have not had any anti-drug education; that 19.5 per cent of all deaths in the United States from 1990-1994 were related to smoking cigarettes while the percentage of deaths from smoking marijuana was zero; that the U.S. prison population exceeds two million people, making it the largest incarcerator on earth, exceeding China and Russia; that over 80 per cent of the increase in federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions.

And on and on. The numbers are telling, but the movie’s presentation is too frantic for anything to sink in.

As amusing as this film attempts to be—and its success in this department is questionable—it does not address with any degree of substance (no pun intended) the main issues involved in what should be a national discussion on ways to alleviate the socially harmful effects of drugs on our societies. Snippets of film segments on America’s disastrous international interdiction and eradication programs are inadequate on both comedic and seriously informative levels.

Better to spend the price of this movie ticket on a couple of good joints. You’ll learn more.