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Richard Branson's Son Challenges the War on Drugs in New Documentary

'Breaking the Taboo' features interviews with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and more

Bill Clinton is interviewed in the documentary 'Breaking the Taboo.'
Courtesy of Sundog Productions
December 7, 2012 2:26 PM ET

Breaking the Taboo – a new documentary about the war on drugs – premiered last night at Google's New York headquarters, with stars including Katie Couric, Virgin mogul Richard Branson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Natalie Imbruglia in attendance. While the one-hour film is not available in theaters, it's streaming in its entirety online.

The web-only strategy is part of producer Sam Branson's plan to make the thoroughly researched anti-prohibition film a viral sensation, potentially inspiring serious drug policy reform. The filmmaker (who is Richard Branson's son) hopes to reach a wide audience for the all-star project – which includes never-before-seen interviews with former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, narration by Morgan Freeman and a trailer starring Kate Winslet.

The film's main message is that the substantial losses of life and freedom resulting from the war on drugs, not to mention the amount of money being spent, are just not worth the paltry results: A country that continues to consume and demand drugs from a fractured global market. "It's about putting the alternatives to the prohibitionist regime on the table," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Progress has been stymied, because the only options that can be discussed are ones that essentially are grounded in a law enforcement and prohibitionist approach."

Latin American leaders like Brazil's former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who appears in the film, are increasingly calling for reform and pushing the global narrative towards a more open debate. But while Latin America has carried the brunt of the drug war's trafficking and violence, it's Americans who have seen the worst incarceration rates. "We have this drug culture that in many ways freezes past inequities," Newark mayor Cory Booker told Rolling Stone at the premiere. Booker said that in his home state of New Jersey, African-Americans make up just 14 percent of the population, but 65 percent of the prison population. And while African-Americans and whites use drugs at about equal rates, black Americans are far more likely to get arrested on drug charges. Adds Booker, "Lack of pathways for education and self-empowerment create a breeding ground for the drug war."

At the premiere, Richard Branson called the global drug war "an abject failure" with "horrendous" consequences for people around the world. "As a businessman, if you have 40 years where your business fails every single year, you don't continue the business, you close it down or you think of a different approach," Branson tells RS. He proposes looking at other nations with smarter drug policies – like Portugal, where the decriminalization of drug use has reduced HIV and AIDS, crime, addiction and other drug-related harms.

One positive sign for the future: Drug policy is coming to the States, with marijuana legalization going into effect in Washington state yesterday. Adds Nadelmann, "It's time for a real debate. It's time to move in a new direction, where the sort of censorship and self-censorship we see in this field at the highest levels of government and politics is no longer acceptable."

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