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Why the War on Drugs isn’t working

By Hempology | April 13, 2007

Vanc. Sun Apr 11

Damage Done Is The Smartest Documentary Yet On A Divisive Subject, With A Clear Message That Change Is NeededIn all the documentaries about the stupidities of the war against drugs, the smartest documentary yet may well be Damage Done: The Drug War Odyssey.

What sets Damage Done apart is the way it approaches the issue. Connie Littlefield’s documentary, for example, doesn’t interview the usual suspects. It doesn’t include all those you’d expect to be in favour of drugs such as Marc Emery talking about being targeted by the U.S. federal government for selling marijuana seeds through the mail to U.S. customers, members of the B.C. Compassion Club pointing out the medicinal benefits of cannabis, or protesters snubbing authority by smoking up at the annual Smoke-In.

Instead, Damage Done takes a much more subversive approach by talking to police officers and justice officials, the assault troops on the front lines of the drug war. As members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, their story is depressingly familiar: almost without exception, they started out as true believers in the war but ended up coming to the realization that they were just part of a drug enforcement industry that thrives on keeping drugs illegal.

Their message? Our current system of drug prohibition doesn’t work and needs to change.

The police officers now speaking out in favour of repealing prohibition include Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief, Vancouver’s own Larry Campbell, a former RCMP officer who as mayor successfully lobbied to open Insite, North America’s first legal injection site, and Frank Serpico, the New York cop whose refusal to be sucked into the department’s endemic corruption nearly cost him his life and resulted in a book and a Hollywood movie about his courageous stand.

“I think we have to stop this hypocrisy,” Serpico says in the documentary, referring to the huge class disparity between street-level criminals who get busted for using, while Wall Street executives order and use their designer drugs with impunity.

A name you’ve probably never heard of is John Gayder. He’s an officer with Ontario Parks Police who has sacrificed career advancement for speaking out against drug prohibition. Gayder says many more police officers believe exactly as he does but are afraid to speak out. After seeing a documentary such as Damage Done, maybe more police officers will do the same as Gayder and stop turning an addiction problem into a criminal one.

Sponsored by the National Film Board, Damage Done is full of comments and observations about the war on drugs that hit you with the ring of authenticity: more than 38 years after former U.S. president Richard Nixon officially started the War on Drugs, North America now has more drugs at lower prices than ever before; police corruption is largely the result of the insanely huge amounts of money that organized crime has to spread around; just as alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s was responsible for creating gangsters such as Al Capone, so too is drug prohibition largely responsible for allowing organized crime to flourish today; and North America’s huge appetite for illegal drugs doesn’t come from addicts but from occasional users.

Damage Done is being shown this Sunday with a second film called Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law in the No More Drug War Double Bill Film Festival at the Vancity Theatre at 12:30 p.m. The festival is organized by the B.C. Compassion Club and the Vancouver Island Compassion Society to promote a dialogue on a national drug policy based on rational evidence.

Waiting to Inhale, directed by Jed Riffe, looks at the debate in the U.S. over treating marijuana as a medicine and the evidence to support claims that marijuana relieves the symptoms of people diagnosed with AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

After the screenings, there will be a panel discussion with both directors as well as former mayor Larry Campbell and Jerry Paradis, a former B.C. Provincial Court judge and LEAP member.

The double-bill film festival is one of the events being organized to mark the B.C. Compassion Club’s 10th anniversary in May as the largest and oldest compassion club in the country. Also in May, the VICS takes on the federal government in a constitutional challenge of Health Canada’s Medical Marijuana Program that prohibits compassion clubs from growing their own marijuana for medicinal use.

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At A Glance

Damage Done and Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law are being shown as part of the No More Drug War Double Bill Film Festival, 12:30 p.m. Sat at the Ridge on Quadra

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