Yes, Adrian Grenier is that pretty boy from Entourage with the entourage. But in 2008 he created a show that featured himself and a team of environmentalists showing us how to, you know, stop screwing the planet. In 2009, he co-founded the now burgeoning green lifestyle site shft.com. He also spent three years making that surprisingly good HBO doc, Teenage Paparazzo, with fellow producer Matthew Cooke. Now he and Cooke are using a grip of former and current drug dealers, kingpins, narcs, and celebrities like 50 Cent, Susan Sarandon, Eminem, Woody Harrelson, Russell Simmons, and The Wire creator David Simon to wake people up to just how sickening America’s drug policies are, and how a street dealer can become a cartel lord with relative ease in their new documentary, How to Make Money Selling Drugs. Which Matthew directed, wrote, and narrates.
Also, what the fuck did you do today?
VICE: What are some tips for getting away with selling drugs?
Matthew Cooke: Well, like any other product, you try and bring it to market and try to sell it. You already have a ready-and-waiting customer base that wants the drugs. All you have to do is pull them out and… start.
While the War on Drugs is obviously a failure, it brings in tremendous revenue for all levels of government. What can we do to end the addiction our lawmakers have with the money it rakes in?
Adrian Grenier: The conservative answer would be, let’s shrink government. Let's certainly get out of people’s personal lives and get the SWAT teams out of their homes.
Matthew: The biggest myth that needs to be dispelled is that we need government to legislate morality, and that we need government to legislate that morality with a police force. That is the prevalent view of those who think we should keep the laws the way they are. A lot of people think that when you talk about decriminalizing drugs it's for potheads and druggies who want to take to the streets to do their crazy drugs and wreak havoc on society. We need to bridge the gap and let people know that we’re all on the same page and we all have the same objective. Which is how can we limit harmful drugs and treat those with addiction?
Adrian: It's lazy governance and lazy police work. We don’t really want to deal with people who have substance abuse problems. We don’t want to deal with people who have chemical imbalances… we’re taking non-violent, personal-use offenders and turning them into criminals.
Matthew, you spent days in the back of a DEA van zipping down the East Coast in search of 200 kilos of cocaine. What did you take away from your time with those agents?
Matthew: We found five, maybe six kilos, and that is emblematic of the drug war. We spend all this time, all these resources tracking down the 200 “scary” kilos to keep them off the streets and end up finding six.
What were the agents like?
Great guys. Their hearts were in the right place. They want to keep the streets safe. They want to track down each and every eight ball and kilo they can find and think they are somehow going to prevent it from going up some child’s nostrils. The reality is that no matter how hard they try, they’re only seizing a tiny fraction of what’s coming in. Still, they definitely have to believe that what they are doing is for the highest sort of good.
Adrian: These drugs laws really diminish good police work. It’s really easy to go pick off a street dealer to hit your quota. Its much more difficult to find rapists and murderers. That takes real police work. That’s why 48 percent of inmates are in for drug related crimes as opposed to eight percent for violent crimes.
Matthew: There was a plainclothes NARC I interviewed who didn’t make it into the final cut. He was really fucked up over having to turn people in who he had become very close to. He had a couple experiences that really screwed with his head, like when he befriended a father, a husband who was selling drugs on the side to take care of his kids, keeping them in good schools, protecting his family. This was a good guy. He didn’t kill people. He didn’t have guns.
You outline the consequences of smuggling and dealing, but if you ignore that, your documentary is an excellent template on how to make money selling drugs.
Adrian: Is it? Your neighborhood street corners are recruiting right now and they’re going to tell you the real way to make money selling drugs. We’re a fun movie. Very cinematic. Big summer blockbuster.
So you’re not concerned that people will watch this documentary and think, Damn, I want to make a million dollars a day selling drugs.
That’s like going to sex ed class and watching a video on how to catch an STD, then all the kids run out to catch an STD.
What are your personal relationships with drugs?
Adrian: One of the luxuries of having a President who has admitted to smoking pot is that we can all at least admit to that. I’ll admit to smoking pot and I’ve experimented—but my experimentation days are long gone.
Matthew: I mean, my experimentation days are over, but they didn’t end because a SWAT team came through the back door.
Did your personal histories with drugs influence the narrative of this film?
No, no. 95 percent of my motivation came from growing up being poor and needing to do things to make ends meet—seeing people get into the drug game and feeling a total sense of empathy for that. I don’t feel empathy for killers, I don’t feel empathy for stick-up artists, but I did feel it for people selling a little bit of marijuana, and I could see how someone could get into the cocaine business if that’s what’s happening in their community. It happened for me in a different way. I was living in a suburb of Chicago and kids were making fake IDs. It seemed perfectly reasonable and normal for me to get into that business, but think about how much trouble I could have gotten into if we had gotten busted! I mean we made hundreds of fake government documents so that people could get alcohol underage. But I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was thinking about how to get money for food. I didn’t have a place to live at that time so I was couch surfing and I needed money.
Adrian: I grew up with parents who grew up in the 60s. They were part of the flower power movement and everyone thought marijuana was going to be legal tomorrow because everybody was smoking it. Then, of course, coke and crack and the darkness set in, but it's silly to assume that all drug use leads to the same end.
Matthew: I’ll pipe in with a statistic: One out of ten recreational drug users will become an addict. So when we look at the War on Drugs, the thing that gets so confusing is that we’re looking at a whole shitload of issues at the same time. We’re looking at recreational drug use. What should we do about that? We’re looking at addiction. At poverty. If you’ve got a 15 percent, ten percent unemployment rate, these people have to do to do something to put food on the table. So you have this incredibly lucrative black market calling out to them, calling their name. When we say, “lets end the drug war,” we’re not saying, “hey everybody, let's do heroin.”
Your documentary just won the Audience Award at the Champs-Elysées Film Festival in Paris. Was it a little embarrassing to go into another country and showcase how fucked up our drug policies are?
Of course it’s embarrassing; it’s ridiculous. I mean, France is like, number 145 on the list of countries who incarcerate their people and the US is number one. They have some interesting things to be called into account for, though. Napoleon was one of the first people in history to prohibit drug use on a massive scale. He outlawed marijuana; particularly for the Muslims, whom he was invading while in Egypt. And today, 70 percent of France's prison population is Muslim. They have a similar situation as to what’s going on in the United States where, let’s say a young Muslim kid who is selling a little bit of drugs to make ends meet is brought into the prison system. What happens to him? He’s radicalized. So he comes out with a very different [take on] Islam. These issues resonate, in one way or another, all over the world.
Do you worry that if drugs become decriminalized big corporations will take up the charge?
No. There are all these anti-anxiety medications, so I don’t worry about anything.
Adrian: We’re all so afraid to try something new because it might not work exactly right. "Right" doesn't really exist. It’s a process. First and foremost, stop locking people up. It’s disproportionate to the crime. The violent SWAT Team approach is overkill and destructive to communities. It’s like an atom bomb for a mosquito. We’re better off dealing with addicts than having this overcrowded, privatized prison system that trains people to be real criminals.
Matthew: The other aspect to that is to not be so fucking binary about it. Where it’s like, “There are two options that Americans can take! Option number one is we’re going to beat this shit out of you with the police. If you step out of line, if you do anything slightly wrong, we’re going to throw you in the slammer for 50 years.” Option two is a complete free-for-all where capitalists are encouraged to market their horrifying products to the youngest of our generation! Come on, we cant find any sort of intelligent model together?
In the film, you use the campaign that has been successful in curbing cigarette smoking—which kills far more people each year than illegal drugs—as a template for why the US should decriminalize all drugs. Explain.
I mean, it's not a totally fair comparison to make that cigarettes kill people more slowly, but it is a fair comparison in terms of people who are killed earlier than they might have been…
Adrian: But is that true through? You only OD when you do way too much of something. I mean, Hunter S. Thompson was alive for however long as a heroin addict because he could afford to maintain his habit. It’s usually people who OD when they get off drugs and they go back and try to do the same amount. I’m just going to say that cigarettes are just as bad as any drug.
Matthew: Could oxygen be considered a drug? I mean, we are all addicted to it.
Adrian: Can we strike that from the record? You were sounding so intelligent until that.
How To Make Money Selling Drugs is available now on iTunes and in select theaters June 26.