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Once consigned to the fringes of libertarianism, the argument for the legalization of drugs has received an unlikely boost in America in recent months with the release of a documentary titled “The House I Live In.” Coinciding with the decision by the states of Colorado and Washington to legalise marijuana, the film won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year and has arrived at a moment when Americans are beginning to reconsider the efficacy of their nation’s drug policy.

Packed with facts, stories and polemics, the film traces the history of America’s changing attitudes to drugs and the role of the criminal justice system in shaping those attitudes. It also focuses on a variety of different individuals — inmates, prison guards, judges — caught up in the massive industrial process of incarceration. And there is a powerful strand running through the film in which David Simon, the man behind the TV series “The Wire,” explains why the war on drugs has proven a counterproductive disaster.

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