Although some people might think that the mission of the Drug Policy Alliance to end the war on drugs is radical, we are actually a relatively tame group of people. Our ranks are composed of lawyers, parents, political analysts and volleyball league leaders. To put it in perspective, our executive director, Ethan Nadelmann, was recently described in a Rolling Stone magazineprofile as "a wonky intellectual in dad jeans." We're equal parts cool and geeky and we have a passion for promoting drug policies based on reason and human rights.
As an advocacy group, we're constantly balancing a wide range of interests, including some people who hate drugs but hate the failures of the drug war even more. So, when we were approached about the new documentary film by Adrian Grenier and Matthew Cooke calledHow to Make Money Selling Drugs, some of us were concerned about whether being connected to a movie with such an edgy title and made by a celebrity, featuring people like 50 Cent and Eminem, would make it seem like we are glamorizing drugs. But once we saw the film, we could see clearly that it is a genuine and intelligent reflection on people who sell drugs, addiction, poverty, racism, law enforcement and the ugly web of corruption created by prohibition. Arianna Huffington called it the "most important movie of the summer."
How to Make Money Selling Drugs pulls no punches. It peels through the layers of the drug trade from street sales to multi-million dollar smuggling operations and reveals how the drug war is designed to be a self-perpetuating boondoggle of wasted tax dollars and broken lives. The film is accessible, clever and provocative -- and moreover, the filmmakers are intent on making sure it has a meaningful impact. Their hope is that it should get people talking about the drug war and wondering what the score is.
Adrian Grenier and his tech-savvy collaborators came to us with the idea of making a mobile application to capture the curiosity of movie goers and feed their appetite for updates and the latest news. This would harness the momentum of the film, give people a way to stay connected and allow them to interact with the content. People will be able to give their opinions about the news, rate the impact and see how their opinions compare to others through real-time ever-changing data visualization. Although admittedly we are not normally in the business of making apps, this was an exciting opportunity to engage new audiences and get their insights on the issue. We are joined in the partnership by Tribeca Film, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and the Canadian interactive agency Secret Location.
The app, "Tug of War on Drugs" is free and now available for download from the Apple iTunes store, timed with the theatrical release of the film. Users are drawn into the dialogue with a series of pointed questions meant to draw out their point of view, followed by current news that they can react to by pulling a virtual rope to reflect where they stand. Hopefully, it will translate the platform provided by the film into support for realistic alternatives the drug war, which might not necessarily be cinematic but will save lives by replacing "war" with health, safety and common sense.
Sharda Sekaran is Managing Director of Communications at the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.