Fictional Look At Drug War More Realistic 

  Fictional Look At Drug War More Realistic 

Posted by FoM on March 25, 2001 at 15:21:11 PT
By Cynthia Tucker - Staff 
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution  

Somebody should have thought to enter Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" in the documentary category for tonight's Academy Awards. Although the plot and characters are fictional, the film is nevertheless a truer account of the so-called war on drugs than you'll ever get from official Washington. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, the movie portrays the drug war as cynical, misbegotten and utterly futile. That's hardly fiction. 
Perhaps the movie crackles with such authenticity because the screenwriter, Stephen Gaghan, was a junkie for many years himself. Gaghan recently told The New York Times that his descent started in high school, when he began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. He moved on to harder drugs, which he used despite many arrests and life-threatening experiences until, he says, he "hit the wall" a few years ago. He has already won a Golden Globe award for "best screenplay" and deserves an Oscar as well. Its depiction of the world of illegal drugs from both sides of the law is harrowing and profound. Perhaps the only unrealistic characterization is that offered by Michael Douglas, who plays a Midwestern law-and-order judge nominated for the federal post of drug czar. Blind at first to his adolescent daughter's descent into a hell of hard-core drug use, Douglas finally gives up the job when he is forced to come to terms with his daughter's plight. On his way out, he holds a news conference in which he admits the lunacy of the nation's approach to narcotics. Oh, Douglas' acting is competent enough. But it is hard to believe a politician with national ambitions would ever own up to the obvious failings of the drug war, despite personal experience. President Bush, after all, is as rigid about harsh penalties as his predecessors, despite his admitted abuse of a legal drug, alcohol, and suggestions that he may also have used illegal narcotics as a young man. Even if Bush did not use illegal drugs, it is hard to believe --- given his hard-partying youth --- that he did not have among his acquaintances several who did use marijuana and cocaine and yet survived the experience to become capable and law-abiding middle-aged adults. Still, Bush sticks to a policy that punishes the poor addicts who can't afford drug treatment or good lawyers to keep them out of prison. That denial from Washington is a mirror of the denial abroad in the land. A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans --- three-fourths --- agree that the nation is losing the war on drugs. Yet, they support current policies --- arresting low-level drug dealers, throwing billions of dollars into drug interdiction abroad, punishing those who are addicted. This recalls that old cliche about the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The nation pays a high price for this madness. We have locked away hundreds of thousands of nonviolent young adults whose worst crime is abuse of their own bodies. In addition to those whose lives are worsened by incarceration, there are countless others whose lives have been lost to the violence generated by illegal drugs sales. Gaghan, who was lucky enough to have the means to afford eventual drug treatment, clearly has a point of view: He believes that the nation should treat drug abuse as a health problem rather than a law enforcement problem. His movie, however, is unlikely to move official Washington to that point of view. But it just might begin to chip away at the denial. Complete Title: Fictional Look At Drug War More Realistic Than RealityCynthia Tucker's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Editor of the Constitution editorial pages. E-mail: cynthia Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)Author: Cynthia Tucker - StaffPublished: Sunday, March 25, 2001Copyright: 2001 Cox Interactive Media.Contact: jrnledit Constitution: conedit ajc.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Traffic Official Web Site: Important Movie Of The Year: Give 'Traffic' Thumbs Down: Reality Behind Traffic - Nightline: Articles - Traffic The Movie: 

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