His first feature film he produced was Deliver Us From Evil, an expose of the sexual abuse epidemic in the Catholic Church which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Matthew Cooke, director and writer How To Make Money Selling Drugs is tackling another troubling societal issue, the “War on drugs” with Entourage star Adrian Grenier as executive producer along with an impressive cast of superstars: Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, 50 Cent, Eminem, Arianna Huffington, Brian O'Dea, David Simon as well as cops and drug dealers.
I spoke with him in detail about his film.
What inspired you to make this film?
I wanted to reach an audience who don’t normally watch documentaries, to engage people with incredible human stories and simultaneously reveal how the war on drugs is the worst public policy failure of the last 50 years. I hope that through watching this film Americans might have more empathy and understanding with one another.
Do you think some people will take your film the wrong way and actually start selling drugs?
Human beings are capable of anything. But I doubt my film would influence anyone who wasn’t already heading in that direction. I’ve never met a child who said “When I grow up I want to be a drug dealer” unless that was the only real option presented in that child’s world.
What do you say to the people who have lost a child, sister, brother or parent to drugs?
I am sorry for their loss. I’ve lost friends and loved ones to the disease of addiction. My hope for a sensible domestic drug policy is one where we focus moneys toward addiction research and rehabilitation programs for addicts. Right now, you have to have 10s of thousands of dollars a month to access a decent rehab. That’s insane.
Wouldn’t legalizing drugs have a lot of people driving high and place the public in danger?
It certainly could if legalizing drugs means giving Monsanto or Coca-Cola Corporation the right to market heroin and cocaine to kids. I don’t advocate unregulated legalization. I believe addiction and abuse need to be treated via education and regulation on how people access drugs. But there is smart policy and insane policy. Right now we have insane policy.
Is this film glamorizing drug usage?
Not at all. This film does not speak much to the topic of drug use other than to point out that the USA is the number one consumer of illegal drugs worldwide. That would be a different film.
Do you believe legalizing drugs is the panacea to the drug problem in America?
No. I am not a supporter of unregulated legalization of drugs. I don’t believe alcohol or cigarettes should be allowed to advertise to kids either. As a matter of fact I think advertising and marketing is out of control in general and we’ve confused giving corporations free reign and confused that with the “free speech” of the people.
The USA is one of only 2 countries in the world that allow pharmaceutical advertising which is obviously unethical. We could also talk about how children are exposed to over 5000 advertisements a day particularly with ads for products high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup and how the “legalization” of marketing harmful diets to children has caused an epidemic of childhood obesity.
So no, I am not in support of legalizing drugs in an unregulated market for profit.
What policy changes do you deem to be necessary now in the war on drugs?
Possession and use of drugs is no longer criminal. Period. Allow users access to illegal drugs (at very low cost or free) through government clinics. If we do that, the violent black market would disappear completely. With the $25 Billion dollars we have saved by ending a “war on people” we can invest in rehabilitation centers, education programs and a social safety net for the millions of Americans living in poverty.
Would legalizing drugs make addiction worse?
It could. I believe I have spoken to that.
What are the benefits from not legalizing drugs?
If you mean by keeping things as they are then we continue to have a war on people, particularly people of color where our prisons are ever more filled with non-violent citizens who lose the right to vote, to get a good job or to take care of their families for generations.
What’s do you want the audience to come away with after seeing your film?
I would like the audience to have enjoyed the experience of seeing the people of the film tell their incredible stories. And I would like people to see that the “war on drugs” has absolutely nothing to do with helping and protecting our communities from drug addiction, classism, racism or poverty.
You can watch this film on iTunes, cable on demand nationwide, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. It is also out in select theaters across the country. See: www.tribecafilm.com/drugs