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The key word in the phrase “the war on drugs” is “war.”

As cogently and persuasively described in the eye-opening documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs,” America’s ever-escalating battle against the production, import, sale and possession of illegal drugs has claimed so many victims, it’s worth asking why we attack the problem the way we officially do.

Matthew Cooke, producer of the Oscar-nominated 2007 documentary “Deliver Us from Evil,” makes his directorial debut with the sardonic yet deadly serious “How to Make Money.” Cooke presents a case that the war on drugs in America is not only a no-win scenario, it is no longer (if it ever was) designed to be won as much as fulfill disturbing, narrow agendas in the public and private sectors.

Some viewers might bristle at the film’s satirical structure: a 10-part sales presentation to wannabe drug dealers who aspire to evolve beyond street-level pawn to regional kingpin to head of a worldwide cartel.

Others might object to Cooke’s lack of journalistic balance: No one from the Drug Enforcement Agency, for instance, is asked to defend its work despite being impugned.

Yet “How to Make Money” is full of useful insights from people who know the drug trade well, including reformed dealers, ex-international smugglers, former cops, pundits, lawyers and government insiders.

Interviewees include one-time dealer Freeway Ricky Ross, retired Baltimore cop-turned-activist Neill Franklin and rapper 50 Cent, who sold drugs as a 12-year-old orphan.

The film’s emerging portrait of the drug war is of a relentless, historical cycle involving poverty, racism, addiction, corruption, political opportunism, local cops dependent on federal dollars, and a $50 billion, commercial prison industry profiting mightily by incarcerating lots of Americans.

Do we really want to end this war? There seems little incentive.

Tom Keogh: