Current and former world leaders on the frontline of the US-led war on drugs have called for a radical change of approach in a British-made film, launched online on Thursday, that aims to do for global drugs policy what An Inconvenient Truth did to highlight manmade climate change.
By featuring a host of leaders, experts, opinion formers and household names pointing out the devastation they say has been inflicted on communities through prohibition, Breaking the Taboo seeks to persuade politicians to put aside fears about being seen as soft on drugs and explore alternatives.
Among those featured are Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and former US president Bill Clinton, who admits bluntly that the US-led war on drugs in Colombia "hasn't worked". Clinton also talks about the need for rehabilitation rather than incarceration when dealing with addicts.
The film is the initiative of Sir Richard Branson, a global commissioner on drugs policy, and his son Sam, whose independent production company, Sundog Pictures, made the documentary. Richard Branson told the Guardian: "I am hoping in the same way that Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth opened people's eyes to global warming issues … this film will open people's eyes on the war on drugs and the failed war on drugs and make it easier for people who want to be brave and do something about it."
The film, being shown on YouTube, because of its "potential to reach millions", said Sam Branson, proposes regulation and control over prohibition. Sir Richard said countries such as Portugal and Spain, where drug users receive treatment rather than being jailed, provide a template. He believes that legalisation of cannabis is "inevitable". "I have hardly ever come across a politician that won't say – off the record – what needs to be done … in the end they just need to be brave," he said.
The film is narrated by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and also features former US president Jimmy Carter as well as former Swiss, Brazilian and Colombian presidents. Sundog has joined with academic thinktank the Beckley Foundation and online movement Avaaz to run a petition, with a target of one million signatures, calling for change to global policy on drugs prohibition, to be presented to the UN in January.
There have been signs of a shift in thinking, with Washington and Colorado recently legalising marijuana. Additionally, Latin American leaders in April asserted that the war on drugs had failed and that alternatives to prohibition must be found. The UN general assembly unanimously voted last week to hold a special session on drugs in 2016. Barack Obama is featured in Breaking the Taboo talking, before he was elected, about how a change in policy was needed, but he said earlier this year that legalisation was not the answer.
Nevertheless, Richard Branson is optimistic. He said: "We would be hopeful that in a second term Obama intends at the very least to start treating drugs as a healthcare problem, not a criminal problem." The film has been supported by a viral campaign on social media using the hashtag #breakthetaboo, which has seen the trailer shared by the likes of Olympic champion Mo Farah, Take That singer Gary Barlow and comedian Eddie Izzard. Sam Branson said: "We're very excited about this. Even the best documentaries in the cinema would only reach tens of thousands. More and more we are seeing online films … there is no other tool which can change someone's opinion in such a short space of time."
Danny Kushlick, founder of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said an important aspect of the film was influential Hollywood stars such as Freeman speaking out. He added: "What this does is potentially bring a group of people in who are ignorant of the important issues there and enable them to not only get interested but also to get involved."
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 5 December 2012 16.37 GMT