Eugene Jarecki is an author and a filmmaker, the director of Freakanomics, The Trials of Harry Kissinger, Why We Fight and, most recently, The House I Live In.
The House I Live In, his documentary about the drug war, leaves one thinking that nothing will ever change, but recently something did. On election night voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana and voters in California passed a ballot initiative to end that state’s controversial mandatory minimum law, “three strikes and you’re out.” Jarecki sees possibility for more change to come but danger in imagining small victories will win the war-against-the-war.
Says Jarecki: “I think these are small victories, and I think we have to be very careful not to let small victories woo us into any sense of false comfort. We need a revolution in the war on drugs. We need to absolutely throw this thing out, relegate it to the ash heap of history and start again with real information about what drugs really do, about how they affect human health and about what to be afraid of and what not and how to treat people.”
See a clip of the movie and watch our conversation in full here. A transcript follows, below:
Eugene Jarecki: It was with a guarded kind of optimism, but optimism nonetheless. On one level you look at the presidential election: the re-election of Barack Obama is far more significant than his original election…. The American people by a majority are saying we’ve seen this guy on the job in very hard times, we’ve watched him go gray on the job, and frankly seeing his performance we think he would simply do a better job than the other guy, the other white, patrician, wealthy guy, and that’s an important moment in American life in terms of race; there’s no way around that whatever one thinks of Barack Obama (and I have been quite a critic of Barack Obama), that’s a victory and it’s an important victory for our evolution in race, but of course it also revealed another half of the country feels actually not very progressed in terms of race. A lot of the antagonism towards Obama is expressed in rather thinly veiled old notions of how to involve in race speak in American life. So that was a little disorienting, so I will call that bittersweet.
But against that backdrop there were great positives on Election Day that didn’t have to do with the presidential election, and I allude here to the victories in the state of Washington, the state of Colorado and the state of California. In Washington and Colorado we saw legalization of marijuana. As a maker of a movie about the drug war, that’s very important to me, because I think those victories demonstrate a certain frailty in the system and they demonstrate a public appetite for going about this differently, for starting to recognize that the way we’ve dealt with drugs over the past forty years has been a disaster and that we need a course correction. In the state of California the victory was almost more significant because Californians as it turns out voted 68 percent to revise the notorious three-strikes law in California.