How to Make Money Selling Drugs: The War America Keeps on Losing

How to Make Money Selling Drugs?

via Salon How to make money selling drugsAndrew O’Hehir

A slick documentary with a jokey premise argues that the “war on drugs” has been a soul-destroying disaster

Despite its slick packaging and overtly facetious premise, director Matthew Cooke and producer Adrian Grenier’s faux-educational documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” packs a wallop. While imparting lessons about the economic realities of the drug trade – a thriving, booming and ever-diversifying realm of entrepreneurial capitalism, in spite of the massively expensive attempt to shut it down – Cooke’s film reminds us that America’s destructive global misadventures of the last 20 years have a corollary that’s every bit as bad right here at home.

If anything, the “war on drugs” has been even worse and even stupider than the “war on terror,” although they’ve become so intimately interconnected in moral, technological and philosophical terms that it’s not like we get to choose. America’s police departments have been increasingly transformed into thousands of high-tech paramilitary squads, just as our overseas military operations have become ever more defined by special-forces ops and targeted assassinations.

Seeing cops in middle-size heartland communities driving armored personnel carriers would almost be comical, if it didn’t so often lead to incompetent and illegal home invasions in which the wrong people are arrested, injured or killed. (Wrong-address police break-ins happen several times a week in the United States, according to an attorney seen in the film.)

As David Simon of “The Wire” puts it, old-fashioned investigative police work has been all but forgotten amid the institutional mania to enforce unenforceable laws against victimless crimes, mostly by swarming, entrapping or stinging drug dealers and drug users in black and brown neighborhoods. We are a society that “hunts down and incarcerates poor people,” Simon says, to the point where building and maintaining prisons has become a major job creator and economic engine (albeit a morbidly inefficient and destructive one). While Americans are just 5 percent of the world’s population, we house almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, making us No. 1 in something, anyway. As Arianna Huffington says in the film, either we are a uniquely evil people – and let’s not rule that out, prima facie! – or we have some uniquely awful laws and social policies.



It really shouldn’t be news at this point that the war on drugs has been a disastrous failure from every possible point of view. Journalists, activists, academics and documentary filmmakers have been making that case since the 1990s, and have increasingly been joined by those law enforcement officials honest enough to admit the pointlessness of the whole campaign. Public opinion begins to shift – and not all that slowly – on the relatively benign use of marijuana, on stop-and-frisk policing in urban neighborhoods and on discriminatory sentencing laws that send black crack users to jail for far longer than whites who snort powdered cocaine.

Anyone in any position of power who still supports the war on drugs today has either been corrupted by the unending flow of taxpayer billions, technological toys and bogus prestige – into local police departments, the FBI, the DEA, the Border Patrol and who knows where else – or is simply a coward. That accounts for the political elite in both parties, which with only a handful of exceptions has continued to fund the militarization of police work at an accelerating rate. Democrats may be less willing to talk tough or be perceived as racist than Republicans are, but Bill Clinton pursued the war on drugs just as avidly as either President Bush, and Obama has not notably slowed things down.


  • Juan

    The “war on drugs” has been a resounding success for the forces of racist oppression, the CIA, the prison industrial complex and The Empire in general. It’s only been a failure for the poor schmucks who happen to get sucked in as fodder for the punishment industry or murdered in a black op funded by gubmit drug money.

    • Charlie Primero


      Salon wants readers to believe it was all a big policy mistake, because Salon is playing its part in the deception.

      • echar

        *something equally untrue and non-constructive*

        • Juan

          You guys crack me up:)

        • Monkey See Monkey Do

          Ok I’ll bite. What is untrue about Juan’s statement?

          • echar

            It really shouldn’t be news at this point that the war on drugs has been a disastrous failure from every possible point of view.

            That is a far cry from hard-asses narrow view of the article.

    • Ittabena

      Well, ya beat me to it.

  • BuzzCoastin

    the first real war on drugs began with The Opium Wars
    and the same American/British families that were running the drug trade then
    are the same families running the drug trade now
    the Carlye Group is their holding company

    the Qing Dynasty fell trying to stamp out the drug trade
    helped by the invasion of US & EU troops used to force drugs down the throat of China
    the war on drugs creates profits for the Carlyle Group
    which creates creates profits for the elites
    and as long as it does that
    there will be a war on drugs

    • echar

      That’s right, the UK and the US basically created the “opium problem” in the Orient and other places. Didn’t they claim it was for other imports like silk and spices?

      • BuzzCoastin

        they wanted to loot China of real goods
        especially tea, silk & porcelain
        and pay for it with opium the grew in Afghanistan, India & Burma

  • sveltesvengali

    I hate to say it, but weaning the US and their collaborators of their drug policies is like weaning them of their military policies. Vested interests will seek to keep the status quo, because, as usual, it’s immensely profitable for them to continue a fatalistic effort, and, unfortunately, we may be taken along for the ride if these vested interests crumble. As ex-DEA agent Celerino Castillo III puts it: “If we were to stop drug trafficking today, our banking systems would collapse.”

    I don’t think the War on Drugs is so much an effort to eliminate or eradicate the drug trade, but to limit the flow of drugs and impose an artificial scarcity (which would allow skyrocketing profits for the cartels), as well as to fuel and fund federal agencies, the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, etc. As a matter of fact, it’s well-known that the likes of the CIA and the DEA have facilitated the same kind of activities they are ostensibly trying to stop, in some cases indispensably…