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Breaking the Taboo


“If you can’t control drugs in a maximum security prison, then how can you control drugs in a free society”? Those are my words that close Breaking the Taboo, a poignant new film about the global drug war.

On May 31st I was invited to attend its world premier in Sao Paulo, by its filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade. I met Fernando when he was in New York City filming and he asked if he could interview me about my experience serving a 15-to-life sentence for a non-violent drug crime. I agreed and was thrilled to take part in it.

Breaking the Taboo is a stark and honest portrayal of the global war on drugs and its failure to resolve the many issues that derive from prohibition. The main character of the film is the former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Other former world leaders and dignitaries appear beside him, like Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

A few days after my return from Brazil I attended the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s press conference in NYC, where the film was shown as former world leaders declared that the global war on drugs has failed. The commission released a report that called for frank dialogue that encouraged governments to experiment with the regulation of drugs, especially marijuana.

The 19-member global commission includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz, who held cabinet posts under U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Others include former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Switzerland, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, U.K. business mogul Richard Branson, and the current prime minister of Greece.

Fernando Andrade told me that the main purpose of Breaking the Taboo is to encourage a deep and well-informed debate on the complex drug issue in Brazil and abroad. The film intends to bring youth, families, teachers, physicians and society as a whole together for a long and honest conversation to reduce prejudice, help prevent drug use and spread scientific information on the issue.

The documentary was filmed in eight countries, in fifty-eight days of shooting (thirty-one in Brazil and twenty-seven abroad), totaling 400 hours of footage, and 176 people interviewed: Brazil, United States, Portugal, Holland, Colombia, Switzerland, France and Argentina; and in cities such as Geneva, Amsterdam, Washington, Los Angeles, S?o Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bogot?, among others.

One of the main points in the film is that forty years ago on June 17, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, in a crusade for a drug-free world. But this war has been proven to be a dismal failure which has perpetuated the damages caused by drugs to people and to society as a whole. Abuses, inaccurate information, epidemics, violence and the strengthening of crime networks are the results of a war lost on a global scale.

Breaking the Taboo pursues solutions, principles and conclusions among the many voices coming from different realities worldwide, in a mosaic assembled by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Former world leaders and Chiefs of State of countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland reveal the reasons why they changed their opinions on the issue of the war on drugs must be discussed and clarified. From lessons learned by people whose lives were scarred by the drug war, to the celebrities such as world-renowned writer Paulo Coelho and actor Gael Garcia Bernal, Breaking the Taboo is an invitation for all to debate the drug issue.

See the trailer : “Breaking the Taboo

Events are taking place in the United States to commemorate the failed drug war

Anthony Papa is the author of 15
Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom
and Communications
Specialist for Drug Policy
. He can be reached at:

Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

More articles by:

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