"How to Make Money Selling Drugs"—A Mockumentary that Packs a Punch
Adrian Grenier, producer of a jokey film that packs a punch.
Photo Credit: Harmony Gerber/Shutterstock.com
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Despite its slick packaging and overtly facetious premise, director Matthew Cooke and producer Adrian Grenier’s faux-educational documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” packs a wallop. While imparting lessons about the economic realities of the drug trade – a thriving, booming and ever-diversifying realm of entrepreneurial capitalism, in spite of the massively expensive attempt to shut it down – Cooke’s film reminds us that America’s destructive global misadventures of the last 20 years have a corollary that’s every bit as bad right here at home.
If anything, the “war on drugs” has been even worse and even stupider than the “war on terror,” although they’ve become so intimately interconnected in moral, technological and philosophical terms that it’s not like we get to choose. America’s police departments have been increasingly transformed into thousands of high-tech paramilitary squads, just as our overseas military operations have become ever more defined by special-forces ops and targeted assassinations. Seeing cops in middle-size heartland communities driving armored personnel carriers would almost be comical, if it didn’t so often lead to incompetent and illegal home invasions in which the wrong people are arrested, injured or killed. (Wrong-address police break-ins happen several times a week in the United States, according to an attorney seen in the film.)
As David Simon of “The Wire” puts it, old-fashioned investigative police work has been all but forgotten amid the institutional mania to enforce unenforceable laws against victimless crimes, mostly by swarming, entrapping or stinging drug dealers and drug users in black and brown neighborhoods. We are a society that “hunts down and incarcerates poor people,” Simon says, to the point where building and maintaining prisons has become a major job creator and economic engine (albeit a morbidly inefficient and destructive one). While Americans are just 5 percent of the world’s population, we house almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, making us No. 1 in something, anyway. As Arianna Huffington says in the film, either we are a uniquely evil people – and let’s not rule that out, prima facie! – or we have some uniquely awful laws and social policies.
Anyone in any position of power who still supports the war on drugs today has either been corrupted by the unending flow of taxpayer billions, technological toys and bogus prestige – into local police departments, the FBI, the DEA, the Border Patrol and who knows where else – or is simply a coward. That accounts for the political elite in both parties, which with only a handful of exceptions has continued to fund the militarization of police work at an accelerating rate. Democrats may be less willing to talk tough or be perceived as racist than Republicans are, but Bill Clinton pursued the war on drugs just as avidly as either President Bush, and Obama has not notably slowed things down.
But it’s going to take large-scale publish pushback to set national drug policy on a more rational footing, and that’s where an entertaining, anecdotal package like “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” comes in, which apparently cashes in on producer Grenier’s access to celebrities. (He was the star of HBO’s “Entourage” for seven seasons.) We hear rapper 50 Cent expounding eloquently on his teenage career as a drug dealer – as a parentless child with few mentors and little formal education but considerable entrepreneurial skills, it was a natural fit – and Eminem talking about his near-fatal struggle with drug addiction (to legal pharmaceuticals, as it happens). Calling on other commentators from Simon to Woody Harrelson to hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to Susan Sarandon, and an assemblage of real-life current or former drug dealers – L.A. legend Freeway Rick Ross is one of the few who is named – Cooke outlines a video-game-style career path, from the low-level and high-mortality job of street dealer all the way up to Escobar-scale kingpin.