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British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legalization

Cocaine has gotten a very bad reputation in the past 25 years. 1n 1976, the year Snowblind was written, it was in its heyday yet still somewhat of a novelty to the general public. Then came the War on Drugs, and it's been downhill for cocaine ever since. British Docmentarian Angus Macqueen (prior films include the Death of Yugoslavia, Gulag, Dancing for Dollars and The Last Peasants) makes a strong case for legalization in his new film, 18 months in the making. It will air in three parts in Great Britain (channel 4) beginning next Sunday. Judging by Macqueen's comments in Sunday's Observer, the film should cause quite a stir.

Celebrated documentary-maker Angus Macqueen spent 18 months on the cocaine trail across Latin America from the dirt-poor valleys of Peru to the shanty towns of Rio. Here he recalls the journey that revolutionised his views and explains why he believes 'the dandruff of the Andes' should be sold in Boots.

It's a really long article, but if you are a drug law reformer at heart, read the whole thing. Here are a few paragraphs that give you a sense of the film, of where MacQueen stood on cocaine when he began filming, and of where he ended up and why. If anyone knows how we can see the film here in the U.S., please e-mail us or leave the information in the comments.

This is when your lungs get f**cked,' the cook splutters as he unscrews the top of a plastic bottle and carefully pours hydrochloric acid into the brown liquid. Gun tucked in his waistband, he reacts nervously to any sound, even the chickens rooting through the undergrowth. We have been told to run if any shooting starts but are not sure where to. At the bottom of the bowl, the acid and the brown liquid start to turn white. A minute in the microwave, and we have a kilo of cocaine.

We are in the depths of the Peruvian jungle watching coca leaves being converted into one of the most potent commodities on the planet......For 18 months I have trailed stories about the iconic drug of my lifetime. The journey took me into places I never believed you could get to: the deepest Andes in Peru to see cocaine being made, and the devastation of a culture; to the slums of Rio to see a city at war; and to the estates of Colombian drug barons to witness the unravelling of a state. We were seeking the voices of the men and the women behind its production and explore the effect on their lives of the West's 'war on drugs'. The degree to which my producers persuaded these 'criminals' to speak direct to camera is testimony to the outrageous confidence of some and the desperation of others.

In 20 years of filming around the world I have never taken cocaine, despite its ever-increasing availability. At the start of the project, I broadly supported the Blair government's more liberal policy of allowing people to have and to smoke cannabis. I agreed that hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin remained beyond the pale, accepting we had to fight them in every way possible. Though I have a number of friends who seem to be able to enjoy the occasional snort without problems, I have also witnessed the distressing effects of addiction.

This journey has revolutionised my views. I now believe that the tragedy we witnessed in Latin America has little to do with the damage the drugs do to people's heads. The tragedy is a result of the drugs being illegal. People will do a lot for a £34,000-per-kilo profit.

.....This journey has left me thinking the politically unthinkable. With an election looming, the Blair government has made the war on drugs a populist law-and-order priority, once again conflating the taking of drugs with the crime and violence that surrounds them. But it is the war itself that is the problem. The politicians rightly warn that demand will go up if it is legalised. Not good but not the nightmare they summon up. Neither cocaine or heroin is a cancer. In quantities it destroys your nose and is bad for your brain, but it very rarely kills - unlike that other addictive plant we can use legally: tobacco. Nor is it a direct cause of violence, like alcohol.

...Let's be honest. People try drugs, whether in the form of alcohol or pills, because they are fun. Tens of thousands of UK citizens regularly consume cocaine; hundreds of thousands more use other illegal drugs, completely discrediting the law. In his book Cocaine, Dominic Streatfield quotes the monetarist Milton Friedman: 'I do not think you can eradicate demand. The lesson we have failed to learn is that prohibition never works. It makes things worse not better.'

....over the past 15 years, the US has spent £150 billion trying to stop its people getting hold of drugs. In Britain and the US almost 20 per cent of the prison population is inside for drugs offences. So what is left? We can muddle on or we can legalise cocaine - and indeed all drugs.

....We should allow the farmers to grow coca and sell it for decent prices direct to government-controlled factories which can produce a high-quality product. And then it should be sold over the counter from registered chemists such as Boots to anyone over 18 at a reasonable, taxed price that does not encourage a black market. At least then we will know it is pure. Then we must attack demand by using some of the millions saved to invest in education drives that are honest. Look how effective a generation of anti-smoking education has been in bringing the public behind stringent restrictions on smoking in public, but not an outright ban.

...Yes, more people will try these drugs and there will be tragedies. But 30 years of the war on drugs have achieved almost nothing except to make a few people fantastically rich, to arm our inner cities, to criminalise a generation of users, and to leave tens of thousands of Latin Americans dead. As our cocaine maker in Peru happily told us: 'People want our cocaine because it is good and, for a while at least, makes them happy.'

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  • Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#1)
    by scarshapedstar on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 01:01:42 AM EST
    Perhaps Patrick will give us a nice, black-and-white, cliche Republican reason why Milton Friedman is wrong.

    hmm, looks like someone will be invading britain soon.

    lol you are all going to hell come look at my site on the way iliketsunamis.blogspot.com

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 05:49:55 AM EST
    Criminalizing common, non-violent behavior is never wise. As for cocaine, never cared for the stuff, but to each his own.

    A couple of years back Guardian journo Nick Davies did a documentary for Channel 4 advocating the legalisation of all drugs. Channel 4 slightly bottled it, however, toning down the rhetoric from the original print series of articles, and declining to show an interview with the then drug czar in which he was unable to support his suggestion (and the law's) that heroin is more toxic than other narcotics. The Grauniad published a transcript of the interview - it made him look a right muppet. Anyway the point is, this isn't anything new for us, but the more the merrier, of course.

    i will hopefully get an opportunity to see this documentary. i am very interested... my opinion on 'hard drugs' falls in with mcqueen's pre-filming opinion. it will be interesting to see if my mindset can be changed at all with the presentation of new information.

    Cue up Eric Clapton sound track!!!

    I'm always amazed at why the same people (generally) who favor legalizing all forms of human behavior and drug use are generally for radically restricting the right to own an carry firearms. I mean, which would you rather have in your neighborhood, teenagers on cheap coke or drunks with bazookas? -C

    anything, but cliff out of his medication and toting a gun

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#10)
    by Patrick on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 08:44:27 AM EST
    Scar, What do you want to hear? If you choose to use drugs, you should be barred from any public services such as medical or welfare....If you agree to that, then I'll agree to full and total legalization. Otherwise we we will continue to be on opposite sides of the issue and my side is the one with the laws on it. One question about the article if Maria Cristina Chirolla is wanted dead by so many and that area is such a lawless criminal controlled country, why isn't she dead already? And doesn't this guy prove there is a connection between terrorists and narcotics? So then if you purchase cocaine, isn't part of your money going to the terrorist organizations? Anyone think that will change if drugs are suddenly legalized?

    Cliff: "I mean, which would you rather have in your neighborhood, teenagers on cheap coke or drunks with bazookas?" I don't follow. Of course I'd rather have teenagers on cheap coke than drunks with bazookas. I don't know any sane person who wouldn't. And besides, you already have teenagers on cheap coke. Patrick, should smokers be barred from public services? Drinkers? Couch potatoes? "And doesn't this guy prove there is a connection between terrorists and narcotics? So then if you purchase cocaine, isn't part of your money going to the terrorist organizations? Anyone think that will change if drugs are suddenly legalized?" Um, yes. That's the point of legalisation, as opposed to decriminalisation. To take supply (largely) out of the criminal economy. There will inevitably be some smuggling, as there is with tobacco and alcohol. But assuming legalisation is handled sensibly, the vast majority of production would be done by regulated businesses.

    Patrick asks: "will that change if drugs are legalized?" Yes Patrick, for the better. If these substances are decriminalized or legalized, then A new source of taxation is created to fund education and medical treatments for addicts, or the revenue could be used for other ideas. In addition, decriminalization and/or legalization would have the same effect on the price of these substances that repealing prohibition had on the price of alcohol. In short, prices would plummet (as would violent crime associated with high-dollar drug traffic) and with them, profits. The same profits that you are so concerned about ending up in terrorist hands would no longer exist. Sheesh, only at TalkLeft would I have to explain market forces to a Right Winger. -Perhaps someone is already "one toke over the line".

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#13)
    by pigwiggle on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 09:26:45 AM EST
    “If you choose to use drugs, you should be barred from any public services such as medical or welfare....If you agree to that, then I'll agree to full and total legalization.” Why should this be requisite for drug legalization, it should be current policy.

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#14)
    by Patrick on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 09:54:53 AM EST
    It's a requisite for me to sign on. I've seen the way many addicts choose to live and I'm not subsidizing it with my tax dollars if I have a choice.

    Patrick- Couldn't help noticing the way you weaseled out of acknowledging that your "legalization will help fund terrorists" strawman was shown to be idle rhetoric. Of course, seeing your past actions here, I'm not terribly surprised.

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#16)
    by pigwiggle on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 10:32:23 AM EST
    “I'm not subsidizing it with my tax dollars if I have a choice.” I see, two wrongs do make it right?

    it'll never happen. the sane logic on both sides of the issue know prohibition is disastrous, but... You guys frequently speak of the tremendous profits being made by the drug lords, etc... if you look at the profits made by the other component, "drug warriors", you'll see this as it really is, a financial industry, that both players are content on maintaining. use to enjoy the back & forth on this subject, now it's just a waste of time.

    Patrick, You're interchanging the terms drug user and drug addict. Your argument sounds like you have some personal experience in this area and perhaps a bit of bias? I know many drug users who are not drug addicts but are highly functioning, contributing, tax-paying members of society who would rather by an "8-ball" on Friday night than go out to dinner for $200. Mind you, this is not my cup of tea at all but I do like to smoke a joint now and then and am therefore subject to Social Services relieving me of parenthood. Arguments for prohibition similarly referred to all alcohol consumers as a-moral drunks. Interestingly, in that world, Ted Kennedy would be doing hard time (as well as one of our local weather personalities!). I did a paper on drug legalization in College. It turns out that more people DON'T use them because they're legal than when illegal, and there aren't more addicts and crime. Actually, those who suffer are organized crimimals and GOVERNMENT ENTITIES profiting from traffiking (see Iran-Contra). Cliff - re: your commentary
    I'm always amazed at why the same people (generally) who favor legalizing all forms of human behavior and drug use are generally for radically restricting the right to own an carry firearms.
    I respect the right to bear arms for exactly this reason, Cliff, even though I thing owning assault weapons basically makes you a retard (kind of like doing Coke).
    I mean, which would you rather have in your neighborhood, teenagers on cheap coke or drunks with bazookas?
    Put another way, which is safer, Amsterdam or New York??

    The money required to help rehabilitate addicts can easily (I believe) come from savings in areas such as law enforcement and prisons, as well as taxes on the locally-produced drugs. What do you end up with? * A system where people can do drugs if they want, without having to worry about policing them or having them taking up space in prisons (where they can spend a lifetime living off the taxpayer's dime). * The money produced from the taxes gets used to treat, rehabilitate, and educate the public. * The incidences of accidental drug deaths (or other health risks) drops as the product is produced cleanly in an industrial environment. * The money stops flowing to terrorists, drug dealers, drug cartels, and street thugs. It stops leaving your country, and thus improves your economy. * Criminals stop selling drugs as the profit drops out from under their feet. This should lead to a reduction in inner-city crime, and a reduction in gun crime overall. It all pretty much falls in place once you get over the notion that drugs are the root of all evil. Does anyone else find it funny that while Reagan was inventing the "War on Drugs", he was also supporting the production of opium in Afganistan for the American market? Go read up on the Iran Contra affair, and see just how virtuous his white house really was.

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#20)
    by kdog on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 11:56:35 AM EST
    I agree w/ mfox regarding the right to bear arms, though I despise guns personally. "To each his own", a simple phrase that holds a lot of truth, I wish someone would explain it to puritans and prohibitionists.

    I mean, which would you rather have in your neighborhood, teenagers on cheap coke or drunks with bazookas? Teenagers on cheap coke, especially if they're female and brunette. Other than that, I don't have anything against responsible gun owners.

    LoL at Felix. Watch out for the new PAC: "Chickenhead lovers for the continued criminalization of drugs"

    LoL at Felix. Watch out for the new PAC: "Chickenhead lovers for the continued criminalization of drugs" After legalisation, there will be no more cheap coke. Instead, there will be female brunette teenagers on bargain quality coke. Fine with me.

    I thought I was laughing with you, Felix. How do you figure the price will go up and the quality will go down - defying economic theory and practice. As I see it, under legalization, those cute teenage brunettes will be able to go to the corner drugstore and buy coke with their allowance money, therefore depriving horny parasites of their constitutional right to $2 blowjobs and dealing a drastic blow (no pun intended - uggh) to the sex industry.

    You were laughing with me. As I see it, under legalization, those cute teenage brunettes will be able to go to the corner drugstore and buy coke with their allowance money, therefore depriving horny parasites of their constitutional right to $2 blowjobs and dealing a drastic blow (no pun intended - uggh) to the sex industry. As I see it, the important part is access to coked up teenage brunettes (and better quality drugs at a reasonable price make that much more enjoyable), not pressuring anyone into sex because they have to support their habit. Sooo, legislation is a good thing. Having sex with conked-out wrecks is not.

    mfox - Well, if your're an unpopular film-maker then you're much safer from the Religion of Peace (tm) in NY than in the Netherlands. Duh. I have several weapons which you (not knowing much about guns, I would guess) would call an assault rifle: FN-FAL .308, CZ-152 7.62, and Tec-9 9mm. But if I really wanted to shoot someone at any distance I'd use my Belgian Browning 30-06. At any kind of close range I'd use my Mossberg 12ga with buckshot in it. If I wanted to kill someone and get away with it then I'd just "accidently" run them over with my car. Or buy them a pound of cheap legal coke and a mini-bike and let them commit suicide. -C

    Prior to the first Federal anti-drug laws - passed in 1914; lot of success we've had since then, eh? - a person could purchase just about any drug they wanted directly, from their local pharmacy. There were no pushers, no drive-by shootings and no gun battles between dealers over turf, no children forced to sleep in bathtubs to shield themselves from stray rounds, no drug based corruption of law enforcement officers,...and no terorists attempting to use drug addiction as both a weapon and a cash cow to finance themselves. There was simply very, very little profit in the trade, as it was (drum roll and fanfare) legal. Yes, some did become addicts...but their addiction was cheap to maintain as the cost of their particular poison was miniscule, and affordable. Many such addicts were able to carry on with their lives (such as William Halstead, a founder of Johns Hopkins and largely credited as being the father of modern surgery in America, who was a morphine addict 'til the day he died, at 70 years with a 35 year habit) ...until the laws made them both pariahs and criminals. I repeat: The only thing that made them criminals was the law. It is the poorly thought out and racially bigoted drug laws that have created a problem where once there was none. I've no liking for hard drugs (good God, cocaine is a freaking hydrochloride; the goofs who snort it are putting acid up their bazoos!) but I like even less this damnable nanny-state-with-guns that has burgeoned these past 4 decades, slowly stripping away my rights while telling me that it's 'for your own good'. There will always be fools who stick needles (I don't know anybody in their right mind who likes being stuck with needles) in their arms or powder up their noses. They continue to do so, despite the increasing stringency of the laws...which wind up hurting far more than the intended targets. Take it away from the dealers, put it behind the counter with the 151 proof rum and vodka, regulate, tax and control it, and tell the kiddies to bugger off as they do in any reputable liquor store...then watch the kingpins implode as their wares drop back in price to something as valuable as soybeans or coffee. Prohibition didn't work for booze, and it's not working for other drugs, either.

    Re: British Cocaine Documentary Advocates Legaliza (none / 0) (#28)
    by Patrick on Tue Jan 11, 2005 at 06:01:42 PM EST
    Patrick, should smokers be barred from public services? Drinkers? Couch potatoes? I don't know any nicotine or alcohol whores, but I've seen quite a few crack whores. Are you suggesting that nicotine, alcohol and laziness are equal to cocaine in their addictivness and harm? The incidences of accidental drug deaths (or other health risks) drops as the product is produced cleanly in an industrial environment. Yeah alcohol prohibition showed us this...Oh wait more people die today from alcohol.

    but to answer your question more directly, yeah, smokers should pay more for health care than me.

    For a start, cocaine and crack are not the same thing, as you well know. Secondly, nicotine is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. Probably not crack though. Incidentally, there's another programme on drug legalisation on British TV tonight. It's on BBC 2, part of the If.. series, which looks at hypothetical future scenarios with a weird combination of documentary interviews and dramatisation. In the past they've covered topics like an energy crunch (Britain is about to switch from being a net exporter of energy to a net importer, and we are unlikely to have the infrastructure in place to cope) and a generation gap crisis. The programmes tend to be quite sensationalist in tone, presumably to make the drama bits more interesting, but the documentary side has always been good, with intelligent interviews of well-informed sources. I've no idea if it will be available in the States via BBC America, but the website is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/if/default.stm

    if any of you guys want to see this documentary, you can download it for free of course from the uknova.com website as a bittorrent. You need to subscribe though, and I think they have a limited number of subscribers now. OTher ecent cosumerntaries on drugs are also available there.