Raw Opium: The Best Documentary of the Year

CANNABIS CULTURE – The world is in a state of decay thanks in part to the USA government and its greedy policies. Those destructive policies include the county’s hypocritical approach to fighting drugs.

Raw Opium, a new documentary directed by Canadian Peter Findlay, focuses on a fascinating plant and its derivatives: Papaver somniferum, from where the poppy seeds and opium are extracted.

Opium has been used by humanity for centuries for medicinal and recreational purposes; the oldest medicine known to man. From queens and artists to peasants and doctors, throughout history, opium has been indulged by people from all walks of life. It is quite possible that even you have taken it at one point in the form of a pill. 

The documentary explores the history of opium and its uses in modern medicine – such as morphine or codeine – and its dangers. Despite its beneficial uses, opium also can be very addictive, especially in the form of heroine; the dark side of the opiates.

The crew went to some of the hot-spots of cultivation and traffic of the poppy seed. The Doc takes us to Sari Gor in Tajikistan, one of the main entrances of drugs coming from Afghanistan. The documentary also follows the previous Drug enforcement higher officer of India to Arunchal Padesh in the Northwest part of the country where whole villages live off the cultivation of poppies. Without them, they would be ruined.

But the camera also points close to home in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES) with a success story of Derek, who used the services provided by Insite, a clinic where heroin addicts can inject safely under medical supervision.

“I didn’t have an agenda when I started the project,” Findlay told a packed Pacific Cinematheque. “We tried to contextualize things and put them into perspective. I really didn’t have an opinion until I saw all these things for myself, and I have seen that the prohibition and criminalization of addicts only marginalize people and make things worse for the society, 40 years of prohibition hasn’t worked.”

On the brighter side, the filmmakers also travel to Portugal, a country where all drugs are legal and addicts no longer have to fear jail time. They are instead referred to services that deal with harm reduction. Portugal treats drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal one, and has now decreased the number of overdoses, users, and epidemics related to syringe use, and less young people are drawn to opiates.

All these successful results are happening not only in Portugal; in Vancouver’s DTES, a number of studies have been conducted that also show remarkable results. The story is similar with results showing less mortality, fewer health issues, and less crime. Nevertheless, Canada’s Conservative government has tried twice to shut down Insite, which operates under an exemption of the law.

Watch the trailer of Raw Opium on YouTube.

The film’s cinematography is excellent as well; it manages to capture the beauty of nature, but also successfully expresses the emotions and political direction of the film. The images convey the hope and the realization that everything could be solved if we convince the top politicians to abandon their ideological taboos in favor of science and compassion.

Gabor Mate, a doctor that specializes in hardcore cases of drug addiction in DTES, states in the film that addicts are sick and need compassion and understanding to get better. He blames the government for not giving the necessary support to help rehabilitate them. The film has a happy ending; it follows one of the heroin users of Insite, Derek, who has been clean for months after three attempts of detox. The compelling interviews with experts (even the DEA) shed light into the intricate world of global politics, where the illegality of drugs serves to finance wars and enrich the few.

The documentary is packed with information, and I would love to see people that are not knowledgeable on the issue or that have prejudices on drug addicts to watch this film.

Rebecca Ambrose, Dr. Ronald Joe and director Peter Findlay.Rebecca Ambrose, Dr. Ronald Joe and director Peter Findlay.The film was followed by a post-screening discussion with Rebecca Ambrose, owner of the Vancouver Seed Bank; Dr. Ronald Joe, medical manager for Inner City Addiction with Vancouver Coastal Health and one of the interviewees in the film; and Peter Findlay, the filmmaker.

I asked their opinions of the underlying reasons for keeping drugs illegal in light of the obvious failure of the War on Drugs and the success of compassionate approaches to harm reduction. Is it really ideological?

Findlay seems to think so, but he also adds the strong pharmaceutical lobby that profits from the exclusivity of processing the natural components into manufacturing pills. They didn’t disagree with other possible reasons, like control of people and profit through harsh punishment of drug users. The United States government turns a blind eye to production when it finances loyal dictators or guerillas but in the USA, every 18 seconds somebody is charge with a drug offense. Why is the government doing this to the US population instead of helping them? Why are they giving an exclusive product to the mafias and cartels? The director called it a hypocritical approach.

The documentary might not answer every relevant question but it sure gives you a great picture of a simple plant with complicated role in the world.

Visit RawOpium.com for more news and information about the film and upcoming screenings.