"How to Make Money Selling Drugs": A Lucrative Business with Devastating Effects

Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter
October 5th, 2012

"How to Make Money Selling Drugs": A Lucrative Business with Devastating Effects

-- The documentary "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" has been aptly described as a movie detailing ten steps for making money with drugs. While this description is not off the mark, there is more to the documentary than the title suggests.

Directed by Matthew Cooke (producer and editor of several documentaries including "Deliver Us from Evil" and "Teenage Paparazzo"), this 95-minute documentary takes a deep satirical look at the art of making money from the drug industry in the United States. Viewers might believe the title is deceptive, and the movie offers a sober look at the drug culture in America by examining the impacts of both selling and using drugs on society. It can be viewed as a companion piece to the forthcoming documentary "The House I Live In," which is a documentary about America's failure to win its destabilizing drug war.

Rather than simply casting a blanket of blame on drug users and dealers, "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" clearly depicts the alluring nature of this business. Many documentaries and movies typically give this aspect of the drug culture a wide berth or mention it in passing. The documentary also shows the growing demand for illegal drugs, the effects of drug addiction on different people and the ineffectiveness of the government's approach to dealing with the drug industry.

The film opens with Cooke questioning whether viewers would be interested in a job that requires neither education nor experience. A step-by-step description of how to get into the drug trade and how to succeed in the business follows this provocative question. These steps are fairly detailed and seem to indicate that anyone who follows them can succeed. There are accompanying interviews from different people associated with the drug industry, including law enforcement officers and reformed drug dealers. The cheeky message at this point is that these insiders have the information needed to avoid the pitfalls of the trade.

The documentary's get-rich-quick message is carefully passed on to viewers through a combination of different techniques. For example, the use of flashy graphics on the screen effectively glamorizes the drug industry. There are also powerful testimonies from reformed drug dealers who demonstrate how lucrative and inviting the business can be. At the same time, the documentary clearly shows that only those with adequate wits and courage can successfully deal drugs.

After this colorful part of the movie, viewers are introduced to the true purpose of the documentary: detailing the destructive effects of drugs on society and how the U.S. government's drug policies have not curbed (and, in some cases, have even aggravated) the problem. The arguments are strong and show how the demonization of drug users is not a useful tactic in the fight against drugs. The documentary questions the effectiveness of imposing severe jail sentences on petty drug offenders.
While a person can argue that "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" should have been made without its slick and flashy exterior, that kind of reasoning is not necessarily valid. Moreover, the movie was skillfully and artfully produced, and it clearly shows the effects and emotions, such as anger, usually associated with drugs. These horrendous effects are backed by expert testimony from actual drug kingpins including Mike Walzman, a former Beverly Hills drug dealer. The impact of this documentary is similar to that of the film "Cocaine Cowboys." There are also testimonies from celebrities such as Rick Ross, Susan Sarandon, Woody Harrelson, Eminem, 50 Cent and David Simon (creator of "The Wire").

A powerful underlying message in the documentary is the fact that drugs and their effects can be found at all levels of society. It clearly shows that the stereotypical depiction of addicts and dealers is usually way off the mark. The testimonies of those interviewed also prove that the heaviest punishments for drug offenses usually fall on poor and dark-skinned people.

This documentary is a must-see not only for policy makers and potential drug addicts and dealers but also by society at large. Illegal drugs have profound effects on American society as a whole, not just on those who sell or use these substances. Although this is Cooke's directorial debut, "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" clearly shows that he has mastered the art of filmmaking.