Documentary Review: 'Public Enemy Number One'

Robert Rippberger retells the story of the drug war with the panache of a detective in Public Enemy Number One.

It was a popular saying by President Richard Nixon, that illegal drugs were "public enemy number one." So he started the War on Drugs in 1970.

With the help of numerous talking heads - including Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann; Smoke and Mirrors author Dan Baum; former drug czars Peter Bourne, Robdert DuPont and Ian MacDonald; LEAP executive director Neill Franklin; NORML founder Keith Stroup; and Ice-T, who's executive director of the film - Rippberger digs into the details that have led to a 50-year government battle to rein in illegal drug use in America.

The sections on Nixon and the presidents that followed - Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan - are solid, but then the film rushes through the Clinton, Bush and Obama years. That's too bad. At a running time of just 68 minutes, Riffberger could have filled out the story more effectively.

Another misstep is not relating how Stroup and Bourne are inextricably linked. You keep waiting for them to discuss the incident that led to both leaving their positions, but it never happens. Stoup, who was unhappy with Bourne, ratted out the drug czar's use of cocaine at a NORML party in 1978. This ended the cozy relationship between the White House and NORML. Some believe it was a catastrophic mistake by Stroup that held back the legalization movement for years. 

Watch Public Enemy Number One at iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube Premium, XBOX 360 and Vudu.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.