Will a New Movie and an App Help End the Drug War?

selling drugsAlthough some people might think that the mission of the Drug Policy Alliance to end the war on drugs is radical, we are actually a relatively tame group of people. Our ranks are composed of lawyers, parents, political analysts and volleyball league leaders. To put it in perspective, our executive director, Ethan Nadelmann, was recently described in a Rolling Stone magazine profile as “a wonky intellectual in dad jeans.” We’re equal parts cool and geeky and we have a passion for promoting drug policies based on reason and human rights.

As an advocacy group, we’re constantly balancing a wide range of interests, including some people who hate drugs but hate the failures of the drug war even more. So, when we were approached about the new documentary film by Adrian Grenier and Matthew Cooke called How to Make Money Selling Drugs, some of us were concerned about whether being connected to a movie with such an edgy title and made by a celebrity, featuring people like 50 Cent and Eminem, would make it seem like we are glamorizing drugs. But once we saw the film, we could see clearly that it is a genuine and intelligent reflection on people who sell drugs, addiction, poverty, racism, law enforcement and the ugly web of corruption created by prohibition. Arianna Huffington called it the “most important movie of the summer.”

How to Make Money Selling Drugs pulls no punches. It peels through the layers of the drug trade from street sales to multi-million dollar smuggling operations and reveals how the drug war is designed to be a self-perpetuating boondoggle of wasted tax dollars and broken lives. The film is accessible, clever and provocative — and moreover, the filmmakers are intent on making sure it has a meaningful impact. Their hope is that it should get people talking about the drug war and wondering what the score is.

Adrian Grenier and his tech-savvy collaborators came to us with the idea of making a mobile application to capture the curiosity of movie goers and feed their appetite for updates and the latest news. This would harness the momentum of the film, give people a way to stay connected and allow them to interact with the content. People will be able to give their opinions about the news, rate the impact and see how their opinions compare to others through real-time ever-changing data visualization. Although admittedly we are not normally in the business of making apps, this was an exciting opportunity to engage new audiences and get their insights on the issue. We are joined in the partnership by Tribeca Film, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and the Canadian interactive agency Secret Location.

Sharda_SekaranThe app, “Tug of War on Drugs” is free and now available for download from the Apple iTunes store, timed with the theatrical release of the film. Users are drawn into the dialogue with a series of pointed questions meant to draw out their point of view, followed by current news that they can react to by pulling a virtual rope to reflect where they stand. Hopefully, it will translate the platform provided by the film into support for realistic alternatives the drug war, which might not necessarily be cinematic but will save lives by replacing “war” with health, safety and common sense.

Sharda Sekaran
Drug Policy Alliance

Republished from Huffington Post.

About Sharda Sekaran

Sharda Sekaran manages the communications work of the Drug Policy Alliance, including media relations, publications, events and web.

Sharda has been an active human rights proponent since she was a high school student organizing opposition to budget cuts and inequity in the New York City public education system. She began her professional advocacy career in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, monitoring the international weapons trade. Sharda originally joined the Drug Policy Alliance in 2000 to produce programming for Arianna Huffington's Shadow Conventions, which mirrored the Republican and Democratic Conventions in 2000 and helped put criticism of the drug war in the national spotlight. She served for several years as Associate Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach at DPA. Subsequently, Sharda co-founded a human rights group that works to combat poverty in the United States called the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), and served as Associate Director. She went on to work as a communications consultant with a number of organizations and causes. Sharda served as Director of News and Field Media at GLAAD and Director of Marketing and Communications at Citymeals-on-Wheels. She returned to the Drug Policy Alliance in 2013 as Managing Director of Communications.

Sharda holds an MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School with concentrations in strategy and marketing. She earned her undergraduate degree in international relations from Pomona College.