03/05/2013 10:50 BST | Updated 01/07/2013 06:12 BST

Iceland, iTunes and UK Parliament: Breaking the Taboo with Sam Branson


Drugs can often prove to be an arduous, convoluted conversation. To try and unpick the tangled knot that is global drug policy is fairly impossible. The acclaimed film, Breaking the Taboo, is perhaps treading new ground in its concise and non-excluding format that enables everyone to engage in the hotly contested subject matter.

Released in December 2012, Breaking the Taboo received a staggering amount of attention from internet viewers. Producer and Sundog Pictures Chairman, Sam Branson, holds an obvious effervescent enthusiasm for the film and the topic that it candidly places in the spotlight:

"Breaking the Taboo couldn't have gone better. We tried a new model in releasing the documentary for free as we really just wanted to start the conversation - and that's exactly what we did. We had such a great success with Taboo. We've reached such a wide audience, especially through social-media, it really helped push the conversation to a global level.

"We launched the film for online viewing for a four week window, and in that time we had 800 000 views of the documentary, and one and half million video views -- that included the supporting films and clips that were also on the channel."

With an evident public thirst for a conversation on drug policy, and with the subject of drugs being one of the most contestable in history, have there been adverse reactions to the film's premise?

"Surprisingly, we've not had very much negativity, especially not as much as I'd have thought. You're either on-side with the position that we need to look at experimenting with alternatives, or you stick your head in the sand, have no real opinion, and carry on with the way things are; that's not a good way to lead or evolve policy.

"There seems a general opinion among politicians that things aren't working and we need to look at alternatives, but there are many who aren't engaging for whatever reason. I do wonder: why wouldn't you want to join the conversation that we're all having? There's just so much evidence for alternative policies; to have a solution based approach, and pragmatic measures to improve peoples' lives, but still there are so many politicians that remain apathetic and not engaging at all."

A recent poll conducted by UK Drug Policy Commission found that 75% of serving UK MPs agree that current drug policy is not working. Despite such a high number admitting failure, we are still left with a policy based on apparent tautology. Sam, however, has seen some progress.

"We did a screening of Breaking the Taboo in the UK Parliament, it was very good. We had a few MPs turn up to engage and participate in the whole subject. I do wish more had got involved as it would have been a quality debate, but I do think Breaking the Taboo lays out the facts so clearly that it would have been hard for some MPs just to brush the debate under the carpet."

Included in the parliamentary screening was a panel discussion which included: Baroness Meacher, Caroline Lucas MP, Julian Huppert MP, and serving Chief Superintendent, Graham Bartlett (now retired), with the evening chaired by Claire Fox, all of whom made eminent contributions to the drugs policy discussion. But, Sam has been given assurances from one particular politician.

"I was recently in Downing Street for a charity event where I met the Prime Minister. He did promise me he'd watch Breaking the Taboo, so, we shall see, we shall see..."

David Cameron is firmly on record from 2002 as being part of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee who recommended experimenting with legalisation and regulation, and: " not return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work."

There are some countries that are far keener to have an open dialogue,

"We also screened the film in Iceland's parliament, and not long afterwards they put a motion forward to decriminalise drugs. This goes to show that there are people in power who aren't afraid to think outside the box and will go ahead with what they believe in, and to do the right thing by their country and community.

"The Iceland screening went so well that MPs are asking for the film to be screened on national television, which is very rare indeed. It's going to be good to see how this pans out and to have another country where we can assess the evidence like Portugal."

Sam continues,

"With drug policy, something just screams out: whatever the solutions are, the current position just isn't working. Drugs are also something that indirectly impacts every single person on the planet. Obviously drugs have an effect on society, but there's so much more than that; the illegality of drugs also impacts on black-markets, and then that market greatly impacts society as a whole. Criminalising everyday people isn't a necessarily any kind of solution, but education and other emplacements have merits to them.

"For me, the internet is phenomenal; it's created a global community so we can all converse. People have the ability to start movements, and then politicians can gauge popularity before subscribing. We've seen a change in global attitudes towards drugs and we could well start seeing politicians start holding their own torches and try to champion this subject as their own, maybe even take ownership, and once you get one or two, then that will then start the wave of people thinking progressively about the issue whilst in office."

And how has Sam personally found the discourse and its surrounding conduct?

"To be genuinely honest, there hasn't really been a 'debate' from my personal experience. There are either people saying that we need to rethink our policies, the war on drugs has failed and it's ruining lives all over the world, or, the other side don't really seem to involve themselves and ignore the topic.

"I think that's the next stage and I'm really looking forward to a time when the arguments really start ramping up where people take sides and really start hammering out solutions. The point of Breaking the Taboo isn't specifically pointing to solutions but it does point out failures and highlights potential alternatives that have worked elsewhere.

"You only have to hear the eloquent, evidence based position of reform, but where's the other side? Where's the debate that also deals in such measured tones and evidence, it really does not exist at the moment. I think it's going to rely on public pressure to show the politicians that this is something that we all care about."

If you want to join the conversation, Breaking the Taboo is available on iTunes.

For those interested in helping the dialogue move forward, there is a petition created by Caroline Lucas MP that calls for an Impact Assessment. A short video has been produced to explain why this is needed. Click here to view.