The new documentary How to Make Money Selling Drugs takes a modern, video game-like approach to the daunting task of explaining the various facets, politics, and interests that have mired the country in its entrenched battle against drug addiction, dealers, and legal profiteers. Director Matthew Cooke and producer Adrian Grenier make the case that Americans must urge politicians to stop the war on drugs, replacing the policing of low-level dealers in urban zones with a battle against cartels, and substituting mandatory imprisonment for rehabilitation.
But the film also begs a few important questions, the first about the directors' part in the American drug war.
Grenier earned his fame by starring in Entourage, that party-happy HBO series that ran for seven seasons and left a trail of good times, blunt ashes, and coke powder. In that case, does Grenier — and, really, Hollywood as a whole — deserve some responsibility for glorifying drugs and the crazy (and crazy-desirable) lifestyle with which they're associated?
"We have to educate. The mainstream media is entertainment at this point. Entourage cannot be responsible for people indulging one way or another," Grenier told BuzzFeed. "We have to use education and give people real opportunities to succeed in ways other than the drug trade."
In fact, Grenier said, the baller lifestyles you see on screen — those are actually pretty true to life.
A lot of the movie focuses on the chain of command in a drug organization, from the low-level street dealer to the Al Pacino-in-Scarface-like cartel lord. As How to Make Money Selling Drugs makes clear, most people in the trade are caught in a nasty cycle of debt and desperation, with few choices for other income.
Which leads to that second question: with the movie advocating a decriminalization — and, as such, a normalization — of marijuana, is a regular joe who goes to buy a dime bag helping or hurting the cause?
"I guess it depends on who they bought the marijuana from," Cooke said. "If they bought it from a nice, middle-class family matriarch, who was doing a great job supporting her kids and took a moment to unfortunately go into this illegal business because that's how she was forced to make end's meet, then this would have probably helped her out for a moment. If she got the marijuana and it came from a cartel, then that's supporting one of the most violent organizations in the world."
Obviously, there are no easy answers, which is why Cooke calls for political activism more than, say, scouring for independent weed dealers.
"On an individual basis, the best thing we can do is let everyone know that we no longer support a war on drugs, and that we're only going to elect politicians — local, state and federal — who are on our side about this," he said. "That's the system of government, like it or not, that we have. We have to elect representatives to legislate the laws for the society we live in; we don't live in Noam Chomsky's world."
How to make Money Selling Drugs is out in limited release and theaters now.