Directed by: Matthew Cooke.
How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a documentary that basically argues that America should makes drugs legal – and wraps the argument up in a glittering package that takes the form of an infomercial, or a motivational speaker, showing just how easy it is to make money selling illegal drugs. I may well agree with some of the points made in the documentary – but I still don’t think very much of the movie, which is cynical in the extreme for the first hour, and then gets downright preachy in the final half hour. Stick with Eugene Jarecki’s excellent The House I Live In if you want to see a documentary about the War on Drugs that actually takes what its subject seriously.
The film’s opening scenes are all flash – presenting the different levels of drug dealing as levels in a videogame, going from street dealer all the way up to kingpin. The movie has interviews with many past, current and future drug dealers, who let you in on their trade secrets. This goes on for nearly an hour, and is overwhelming with all the information it throws at you – some of which I found hard to believe, but since I don’t have the stats in front of me, perhaps I’ll just leave that alone. But those facts are buried underneath all the flash and pomp of the films relentless, headache inducing style. The film never really slows down – never really lets anyone talk for very long, before it dives headlong into its next section, it’s next barrage of facts and figures, it’s next celebrity interview.
After an hour of this cynicism wrapped up in a shiny package, the movie turns preachy – with the basic style of the first hour all but abandoned, so the narrator can tell us a history lesson about the War on Drugs – from Nixon until today – with yet more facts and figures shouted at the audience. The whole movie was basically too overwhelming – it never settles down to make its points, it just dives headlong from one point to the next.
Do some of the arguments the movie is making make sense? Yes, they do. The War on Drugs is hugely expensive, and not very effective, and the laws on the books are almost blatantly racist – punishing blacks far more heavily for their transgressions as whites. And yet, while I agree with at least some of the movie, I could never really get into it. It’s all too overwhelming and scattershot to be effective – not to mention glib and cynical.