If there’s ever going to be a fairly bold concept for a documentary, it’s one that will detail exactly what you need to do to go from hawking drugs on the street to becoming the leader of a cartel. Amazingly, this film exists, and it’s called How to Make Money Selling Drugs.

At first, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this can’t possibly be a film full of workable approaches to selling drugs and avoiding the authorities. That it won’t actually give you the knowledge and tools to genuinely investigate the possibility of a career in the drug trade. But it is, and it does. With a wealth of interviews featuring government agents, former drug dealers, musicians and even an in-depth look at the consequences of addiction, it’s a documentary that showcases just how much money, skill and corruption (on both sides) is flowing through the black market when it comes to weed and cocaine.

Those two drugs are the focus of the piece, and they’re good choices, I think, as you’re given a good idea of soft and hard drugs and the differences between how the market treats them. The film pulls no punches, and the amount of money involved, even at the lowest level of dealing, is staggering. Street dealers pull in thousands a week, those one level above them multiply this significantly. The risk of prison, some of the interviewees state, isn’t even that big a factor, given how much money you’ll have waiting for you in five years.

That being said, this is a documentary with, well, a very clear theme in mind – that drugs are great, selling them is great, and that addicts make for great repeat customers! Wait, what?

Here’s where Selling Drugs gets a little weird. Sitting in the screening room, that sentence about addicts threw up a red flag immediately. Was it satire? Was it cold-hearted fact? How was I to interpret it, when the documentary literally pitches ascending the ladder of the drug business as beating levels in a videogame? I do wonder if the cheesy way in which the information was being presented was affecting how seriously I took the filmmakers. I can understand their desire to subvert our reluctance to entertain the legitimacy of the drug trade as a means of making a living, but it did occasionally detract from the fact that there were extremely serious topics on the table.

It’s not a documentary that once again harasses us with the issues surrounding drugs that only ever seem to be propagated by the government itself. What the dealers, and even an ex-cop, detail is a world in which the powers that be in the United States are willing to use all sorts of dirty methods in the war on drugs, because it’s the most well-funded target you can aim for as a law enforcement agency. It’s chilling to note the difference between the huge amounts of funding available to those making a lot of drug busts and the funding for any other form of law enforcement. In the United States, something seems very wrong.

In addition to a serious look into the DEA and the various questionable methods by which the War on Drugs is being aimed and funded, there’s also a section rounding off the documentary that focuses on drug addiction. Not a separate body of interviewees, either – most of them are actually the very drug dealers being interviewed throughout the piece, and that sends a more powerful message than just pulling in random people who have not made millions selling drugs. That said, there is one person who only appears in this coda, and his name is Marshall Mathers, also known as Eminem. His story about addiction is as honest and in-your-face brutal in its delivery as his lyrics, and it’s important to see famous faces discuss addiction in a society where drugs are fashionable and rehab is social suicide.

In all, it’s a solid documentary that manages to be funny, insightful, informative, but is never overly careful in the way it presents information and strategy, and it means that the more cold, uncomfortable truths hit you with significant force as a result. Incredible to witness the amount of money and corruption present in the drug trade, and I’m still a little confused about baby laxatives and cocaine. It certainly sounds like a crappy deal. [See me – Ed.]

How to Make Money Selling Drugs is in cinemas on Friday 20 December, 2013.

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