Eugene Jarecki on His Drug-War Doc The House I Live In and Why Prohibition is Doomed

"We've been at this war for 40 years, we've spent a trillion dollars on it, we've had 45 million drug arrests, and what do we have to show for it? It's a failure on every level," says filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, whose new drug war documentary is called The House I Live In.

Jarecki is best known for Why We Fight (2005), which looks at the role of the U.S. military-industrial complex in leading us to wage war, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2001), which considers whether the former secretary of state is guilty of war crimes and is based on a book by Christopher Hitchens with the same title.

In The House I Live In, Jarecki makes a case that the war on drugs has turned into a war on the underclass, leading to the mass incarceration of ordinary people guilty of victimless crimes. The film follows several characters caught up in different aspects of the drug war, including an Oklahoma corrections officer, a reform-minded judge, a working dealer, a group of Providence drug cops, a man serving life-without-parole for selling 3 ounces of meth, and a Columbia University neuroscientist who both studies how drugs affect the brain and has a son facing drug charges.

Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with Jarecki to talk about the making of the film and why he thinks a growing, cross-partisan consensus is poised to bring the drug war to an end. "Whether it's Brad Pitt, Grover Norquist, Jay-Z - even Pat Roberts spoke out against the drug war," says Jarecki. "The public voice rises and rises until it outweighs the ever more hollow rhetoric coming out of the political class and the corporate class, who are really just clinging to this thing because it's profitable to themselves."

The House I Live In is now in theaters nationwide and you can see a trailer here.

Reason's extensive coverage of the drug war and its victims can found here.

About 9 minutes.

Shot, edited, and produced by Jim Epstein; additional camera by Anthony Fisher.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's You Tube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

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  • Paul.||

    We've been at this war for 40 years, we've spent a trillion dollars on it, we've had 45 million drug arrests, and what do we have to show for it? It's a failure on every level,"

    I agree with everything you said. Except I've been hearing that since I was but a teenager, and I'm not a young man.

    So what that tells me is Prohibition isn't doomed, it's an entrenched industry.

  • Rich||

    What do we have to show for it?

    What do we have to *show* for it?!

    Surely we have saved at least *one* life!

  • fried wylie||

    Surely we have created or saved at least *one* life!

    that one never gets old.

    anyway, even were it possible to quantify the "lives saved from the horrors of drugs by the valiant efforts of dog-shooting-jackboots", I'm sure the balance of lives would still tip in the direction of the "lives lost or ruined to the direct actions" of those same jackboots.

    Gotta destroy and/or ruin a few dozen eggs to create and/or save an omelet.

  • Major Pain||


    Brad Pitt? Jay-Z? Really? "a growing, cross-partisan consensus"???

    Here's the question: Do any of these people have lobbyists? If they do (and ONLY if they do), can they outspend the private prison industry lobby? Can they ALSO outspend the law enforcement lobby?

    Because brother, if they can't, they're utterly powerless. You think electing the "other party" will fix anything? Fuck no, it won't. Congresspig 1 goes out to his lifetime pension, 50k/ speech speaking tours, and 100% coverage medical care, and congresspig 2 comes in, hooks right up with the above mentioned lobbyists (and a whole lot more) and round and fucking round we go.

    Paul's got it exactly right: It's entrenched. Right in our fucking scumbag collection of congresscunts, that's where.

    So hey, I'm sure your movie is poignant as all hell, but so have many others been over the years, all to no avail.

    And in the mean fucking time, REASON, instead of multiple useless video formats, how about a FUCKING TRANSCRIPT, you know, for people who want to actually consider what was said? Instead of being dragged along in your pseudo-MTV world, see. Video sucks unless there's a REASON for it. See what I did there? Nah. Fuckers.

  • sarcasmic||

    So what that tells me is Prohibition isn't doomed, it's an entrenched industry.

    I'm afraid so.

  • Delroy||

    It really is an "industry" isn't it? I never really thought about it that way, but the more I do, the more I'm convinced that's an accurate way of looking at it.

    As an "industry" it helps politicians get elected and law enforcement offices to expand their power, resources, toys, etc.

    It's an "industry" for government organizations/individuals.


  • Rich||

    That does it!

    No guns for you guys!

    /Jacob Sullum

  • Paul.||

    It's absolutely an industry. It feeds grants and federal dollars into local police departments which boost salaries, buy high-tech toys and expand their mission, which feeds the above yet further.

    The only difference is that it's an industry that manufactures its own clientele: us.

    Unlike normal industries which wither on the vine (yeah, I went there) if they don't produce a product we want or appeal to our own self interest, it passes laws which create its own essential customer base by simply declaring a segment of the population to be doing something illegal. The more stuff that's illegal, the more people they can arrest and imprison, thus making their products and services successful.

    I was just talking to a former resident of Hawaii who said they had their own huge DEA-style drug interdiction force with blackhawk helicopters and assault troops-- like something you'd see in Columbia. You think you're just gonna *poof* legalize marijuana and tell those guys to go get patrol fairy jobs or work mall security? Think again.

  • db||

    Prohibition is doomed to failure, but not to be abandoned as policy.

  • Paul.||

    While I agree with that minor semantic difference, that suggests a future tense. It's been doomed all along.

  • db||

    Most members of the prohibition industry would say it has been a grand success. It depends on your point of view.

  • Paul.||

    The prohibition industry has grown exponentially.

  • fried wylie||

    Boom and Bust. (economic reference, or description of police procedure? you decide.)

  • reason readin female||

    Showed the trailer to my *very* conservative sister.

    She was very receptive. It was the first time she had seen even the glimpses of drug raids that was shown. The shot of the child crying with the cop shoving his head to move him along made her gasp.

    The whole "for the children" that I find so annoying was transformed to a very effective tool before my very eyes!

  • sarcasmic||

    and what do we have to show for it?

    I'm sure that legions of prison guards, substance abuse treatment professionals, probation officers, cops, prosecutors, public pretenders, piss testers, dog trainers, and others whose livelihood depends on busting non-violent drug users would point to their homes, their cars, and their college educated children, as all benefiting from locking up these immoral drug users.

  • ||

    We've searched and searched and we can't find anything in government to cut that isn't absolutely vital.

    /any Congressman (except for maybe 2)

  • ||

    I wonder what the savings would be if we released all non-violent drug offenders?

  • Paul.||

    The government and its willing accomplices in the media would probably look at it as a cost.

    If the government can look at a tax cut as a 'cost', surely they can see the release of thousands of non-violent customers drug offenders as a 'cost'?

  • Thomas O.||

    The worst thing we as a country ever did was allow private prisons and turn jail vacancy into a liability. Remember when less people in prison was a good thing? Thanks to Big Prison Inc., now it means "ZOMG! We're losing jobs! We need more people in jail to justify our employment!!!!1"

  • Tim||

    Pot and Tobacco are going to trade places.

  • fried wylie||

    Starring Dan Akroyd as Pot and Eddy Murphy as Tobacco.

    (roles correlated by the respective lightness of the actors and the commercial preparations of the plant materials, to assure maximum racismivity)

  • ||

    We were free, once.

  • ||

    Not really. Freer at times, less free at times. However, the size of the state is at unprecedented levels, making it harder to get away from it.

    As we become richer and more productive, the parasite of government fattens itself accordingly.

  • R C Dean||

    I can think of three (3) areas where we have gotten more free over the last generation (and by free, I use the Olde Schoole definition - free of government control) -

    (1) Concealed Carry.
    (2) Abortions.
    (3) Homebrewing.

    That's it. I can't think of one single other area where the state has actually retreated a little.

    Its grasp on every economic/commercial activity has only strengthened as the Regulatory State has expanded, so that rules out huge areas of human activity as candidates for more freedom.

    Free expression? At best a tie, but there's always control of "commercial speech" by the Regulatory State, McCain-Feingold, and the licensing/control of political protests and expression.

    Anything else? Any areas where the state has actually retreated, even a little?

  • Paul.||

    Thanks, RC, I was posting something along these lines, but erased because I wasn't articulating it well. Continuing my theme, I can think of lots of privileges we've been granted, but hardly and damn bursting on the true liberty front.

  • SIV||

    Speed limits. Remember 55?

  • Paul.||

    Privilege. Five minute showers increased from three minutes.

  • SIV||

    Speed limits. Remember 55?

  • robc||

    Airlines? Trucking?

    I include those, because along with homebrewing, those are the other two big Carter achievements.

    Not that airlines and trucking are free of government regs, but more free than they were 40 years ago.

  • R C Dean||

    Price deregulation of airlines and trucking are added to the mix.

    So, we're all the way up to four areas where the state has taken a step back. In a generation.

  • sarcasmic||

    Carter: The Great Deregulator

    Yet he's always hailed as "The Worst President Ever!"

    I'm confused.

  • $park¥||

    He's optimistic that common sense will prevail through the voice of the public? I'd like to know what drugs he's taking.

  • R C Dean||

    The WOD is so entrenched that I think it will take a near-total collapse of government to get rid of it.

    Would some kind of partial legalization of pot take place before then (state and federal level, so you would have no more concern about having pot than you do booze)? Things can look like they aren't changing until they do, but I don't see that in the next ten years (absent near-total collapse, etc.).

  • Paul.||

    From what I've seen of government though, is as the economy and its authority becomes shakier, it becomes more vicious. Look at the prosecution of the Italian scientists. Shorter: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

  • R C Dean||

    Yeah, that's why I think near-total collapse is necessary for the mailed fist to give up its grasp on us.

  • Paul.||

    The fist is mailed now, it's switching to plated.

  • fried wylie||

    Plate is so 1920's.

    They've spent their research points wisely and have nearly upgraded to mechanically-assisted composite exoskeletons.

  • Gorilla tactics||

    I dunno whether to make a world of warcraft reference of a mass effect reference

  • Gorilla tactics||


  • SIV||

    We've been at this war for 40 years,

    Tell that to everyone locked up prior to 1972. The Feds made drugs illegal even before they prodded the states to pass "model legislation". They used to lock up plenty of people in Fed prisons for simple possession. The "War on Drugs" dates to 1914. They opened up the marijuana front in 1937.

  • Jack the Reaper||

    I think the tide might be changing for the better. I see three states looking to fully "legalize" cannabis and it gives me hope. I voted yes on 64 here in Colorado but I don't think it is polling well. Better than Oregon but not as good as Washington I think I read the other day.

    Anecdotally, my wife, who had never voted in her life (I still can't figure that one out), voted yes on 64 as well. She is sweet and loving, had a bad boyfriend in the past who smoked weed, and she goes to church every Sunday. Whether it was my subtle influence over her ideas or just making the right decision, she voted yes to legalize. I quietly nodded my head and made no issue out of it but inside I was screaming "Yes! She gets it!".

    The real deal will come when a state legalizes and the feds try to crush them into submission. We'll end up with the Supreme Court deciding whether someone who bought some weed at the liquor/drug store should be able to do so.

    Whatever happened to the Montanan Firearms Freedom Act? This seemed like a similar thing where a state thumbed its nose at the feds and, quietly, nothing happened.

  • R C Dean||

    These legalization laws need language explicitly prohibiting local law enforcement from participating in any way in enforcement of federal law, with a waiver of sovereign immunity for any cop who does so.

    Short of that, you're not going to see local po-po consistently resisting the siren call of jackbooting around in their stormtrooper uniforms for cut of that sweer, sweet forfeiture.

  • Auscifer||

    I agree with the sentiment, but keep in mind that the goal is actually draft bills that pass. Baby steps...

  • Jack the Reaper||

    As Auscifer steps.

    I guess part of my point is that it seems like people I never would have thought would support legalization are starting to come around to the idea of what a huge waste of time, money and lives the War of some Drugs has been.

    I do agree with you RC that the language needs to be written so the local police have less than zero incentive to help the feds.

    Of course, I would be all for language that just said it was no longer a controlled substance but just a plant. Not sure I would ever partake myself, but I sure as shit don't care if someone else does.

  • Thomas O.||

    Yeah, it makes me wonder if Congress will pull the Cut Off Federal Highway Funds Maneuver on the renegade states like they did with the "21 to drink" movement.

  • ||

    "Short of that, you're not going to see local po-po consistently resisting the siren call of jackbooting around in their stormtrooper uniforms for cut of that sweer, sweet forfeiture."

    there really is a huge lack of understanding (not surprising) here

    RC, if you had spent even 10 minutes around cops, you would realize that this is simply a baseless worry. there has always been a HUGE divide between COPS and FEDS. sometimes it reaches the level of outright hostility, ridicule, etc. locals refer to the FBI as Fan Belt Inspectors, or Famous But Incompetent, feds are famous for refusing to share intel and for superiority complexes, etc.

    the idea that if a state legalizes that a bunch of cops are just going to jump ship and cozy up to the feds simply ignores reality, one that you don't recognize because you are not part of that longstanding war.

    that "us vs. them " thing exists. no, not the cops vs. the citizens (i'd say cops are way more in partnership with the local community than they are with the feds), the cops vs. feds.

    it aint going away.

  • ||

    again, if and when WA passes legalized marijuana, i will be happy to say "i told you so" when the locals (including yours truly) do NOT line up alongside the feds and against the people of the great state of WA. we *are* WA residents. many feds are here on loan. we aren't. these are our communities and if we pass legalized MJ, the local WA cops are nOT going to sidle up and cozy with the feds to go against the will of the people of our state, the state we swore an oath of loyalty to


  • Gorilla tactics||


    It would have been worse had the gov not been waging the drug war, Imagine how many more people would have been addicts had we not DONE SOMETHING! Drug war is to drug use what krugnutz et al's "jobs created or saved" is to the economy, unfalsiable therefore dumbasses fall for it

  • Dan||

    This website is ******* useless now. Every other story is about how we need to legalize drugs. There's an argument to be made for it, but it's hardly a pressing concern or a major issue that should be the cornerstone of an ideology.

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