Documentary Sheds Light on Nation's War on Drugs

Article excerpt

REVIEW

"The House I Live In," director Eugene Jarecki's vital, expansive documentary on America's war on drugs, takes the same top to bottom approach as HBO's "The Wire." Everyone from federal judges to street- corner dealers are given a voice and an opportunity to weigh in. Even David Simon, who created "The Wire" and was a former crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun, shows up to address a situation that seems to have no possible beneficial outcome: Since 1971, more than $1 trillion and 45 million arrests later, the rate of drug use in the U.S. remains unchanged. Only the substances being abused have changed.

Instead of peppering the audience with dull facts and figures, Jarecki uses people to illustrate his main thesis, which is that the American legal system has resorted to punishing drug offenders -- even casual users -- and permanently ruining their lives instead of trying to rehabilitate them. The war on drugs has become too lucrative an industry to rethink or reconsider. Entire towns depend on prisons for employment; the lack of opportunity for young people growing up in projects or slums practically ensures they will eventually resort to drug dealing, feeding the machine; ridiculously excessive sentences ensure there will always be a need for more jails.

In one of the movie's most intriguing segments, Jarecki goes back to the turn of the century, where drugs such as cocaine and heroin were legal and used to treat medical conditions such as toothaches. …