2014 was quite the year for drug policy. Whatever your thoughts regarding this global issue, the most important thing was that it really felt like people were talking about it - and more importantly - acting on those words.
We saw two more U.S. states fully regulate cannabis, bringing the tally up to four fully reformed states. Washington D.C. also took the step of permitting legal personal use. It's fair to say that entrenched political taboos are indeed being broken day by day. The UK had a modest year, but no less important for its developments.
In the closing moments of 2012, the documentary Breaking the Taboo premiered in London in front of an extremely receptive audience comprised of MPs, policy makers, retired Chief Constables, and world leaders in their respective fields. With a limited release on Youtube, playing to nearly one million viewers in four weeks, Breaking The Taboo played its part in dismantling some of the barriers that can be faced when talking about the emotive issue of drugs.
One of the highlights of the film's journey happened in 2014 with the One Young World summit in Dublin where a large collection of future leaders engaged with the subject after a screening. It's with great pleasure that Breaking The Taboo is now more accessible than ever with its multi-regional release on Netflix.
A new year is a fresh start. It is a time for reflection and contemplation. The season of family, friendship and goodwill is not long behind us, and we hopefully may carry some of the traditional spirit of mindfulness into this new year. The drug issue can draw an opinion that's based on reactionary emotions. Having knowledge of other facets to the debate is imperative, but one line in Breaking the Taboo always stands out -
'You can't make a War on Drugs without making it a War on People.'
With this in mind, it's perhaps interesting to note that in October 2014, the International Comparators report was released by the UK Home Office. This most recent analysis of drug laws had a key discovery:
'...we did not in our fact-finding observe any obvious relationship between the toughness of a country's enforcement against drug possession, and the levels of drug use in that country.'
A powerful tale emerged in 2014, a shattering story of how drug laws can quite literally tear a family apart in the form of Anne-Marie Cockburn and the absolute tragedy of her young daughter Martha. Having taken MDMA, Martha passed away due to complications. No one could quite imagine what the call must have been like for a mother who is to be told that her daughter is another casualty of the quagmire of current drug controls. Anne-Marie now tirelessly campaigns to institute harm reduction emplacements and to reform our drug policy to cater towards ending needless pain. Her campaign Anyone's Child is certainly as compelling as it is heartbreaking.
The end of 2014 also saw the release of the theatrical documentary, The Culture High. This international feature went on to receive an Oscar nod and has been seen in over 80 countries, had a run in L.A., New York, and premiered at London's Raindance Film Festival. The Culture High delves into every area of cannabis prohibition, from the media to the politics, the science to the social construct; this robust documentary continues to push the conversation forward. With high profile interviewees such as Richard Branson, Snoop Dogg, Joe Rogan and Rufus Hound, all sectors of policy making are represented with the ilk of Professor David Nutt, Julian Huppert MP, Professor Alex Stevens, and an array of figures in law enforcement and science. The Wire's Ed Burns, a former Baltimore drugs detective, makes a perfect case for the participation in the discussion:
'Somebody will be locked up today; somebody's life will be ruined today... and you believe in it up until it's your son or your daughter, your friends, or yourself that gets caught up in the same nightmare. And then you'll understand...'
It's perhaps fair to say that punitive drug laws have failed us, this is about as conclusive as it gets: recent analysis from Transform Drug Policy Foundation more than makes the case for how harsher drug laws do not equate to societal betterment.
How can we keep the conversation moving forward?
What would you like to see happen to your friend or family member if they fell into a cycle of substance dependency - whatever that substance may be? What if they didn't have an addiction at all but still got caught up in a loop of criminal reprisal due to their personal decisions? Would you wish to help, support, and unconditionally see the person for who they are? Or is it preferable for the law to address the situation and unwittingly put that person in a position of stigma and life altering retribution? We also need to take care in not using patronising tones and treat everyone with the respect and empathy that we would desire for ourselves.
On your next movie night, please do consider gathering your own audience together, imagine the unimaginable, and have a discussion about drug laws with eyes wide open. Film is a powerful medium to break down barriers; it can allow us to invite our peers to take a fresh look at clandestine issues. In moments of reflection, such as we have now, we have an allowance to be pragmatic. So let's talk about drugs in 2015, but perhaps more crucially, let us distinctly remember the real lives that are affected by punitive drug laws.
Breaking the Taboo is available now on Netflix and iTunes.
The Culture High is available on Vimeo, iTunes, premieres on Canada's Super Channel on February 10th, and U.S. Netflix in February. A special UK screening of The Culture High, with a panel discussion hosted by Professor of Criminal Justice, Alex Stevens, takes place on 27th January at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury, Kent.
Jason Reed is Associate Producer and interviewee of The Culture High.