Of the 372 film titles listed in the Toronto International Film Festival’s program this year, few are likely to raise more eyebrows than How to Make Money Selling Drugs, a documentary that surprisingly delivers precisely what it promises.
Stylishly shot and cheekily framed as a subversive educational film, How to Make Money Selling Drugs takes a satirical look at a serious subject. Blending authentic reportage with pop culture references and a video game — like progression from level to level, the film illustrates step-by-step how to create a drug empire, from dealing on the corner to running a major cartel. Slyly, director Matthew Cooke builds a powerful case that drug policy needs rethinking, as current laws foster a violent criminal underworld reminiscent of the Prohibition era.
The film’s premise reminds me of a fascinating chapter in the bestselling book Freakonomics, “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?“, which opened my eyes to the seemingly rational economic incentives underlying the business of illicit drugs.
As it stands, few people — and even fewer white, privileged people like yours truly — are able to empathize with drug dealers. But by learning the motivations at play we are in a better position to see why the War on Drugs has been a failure for nearly a century.
And while How to Make Money Selling Drugs doesn’t take a unique position on the issue, it is, as NPR’s Linda Homes opines, “unusually comprehensive in the way it brings together a variety of strands of thought in proposing that if prohibition isn’t the right solution for alcohol, it might not be the right solution for just about everything except alcohol.”