Traffic is an interesting film to say the least, and while it's a good one to watch, it fails to be a strong anti-drug film (like Requiem for a Dream) and lacks focus to make for a good drama.
There are a few subplots occurring simultaneously in the film, which all come together at the end, in a way reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino endeavour. The first subplot is about the newly appointed American drug czar (Michael Douglas) and the family problems he has to deal with, including his daughter's addiction to crack cocaine. The second tells the story of how the wife of a recently-arrested drug-lord reinvents herself to save her marriage. The third one details the story of two officers in the Mexican drug enforcement police who are doing their best to end the drug trade between Mexico and America on their own.
There is a gritty realistic aspect to the film, thanks to a stellar cast which brings coherency to the vision espoused by director Steven Soderberg and writer Stephen Gaghan. The movie switches back and forth between being a sentimental opera featuring its protagonists and commenting on the nature of drug use and anti-drug laws. In the end, the latter is what saves Traffic and imbibes it with a decent take-home message.
I recently returned from a trip to South Asia and I was struck by the level of poverty there (and realised that the people living in America in general are very fortunate to be in such an affluent location). The poverty level and the resulting gap between the rich and the poor leads to certain disequilibrium situations. In the case of Thailand, there's the whole sex industry where young girls drop out of school so they can support their families (or just keep up with a standard of living they feel they should have). In Nepal and India there is a simmering undercurrent of discontentment which is manifested during strikes (or bundhs) which allows the populace to release frustration. (And any outlet in Tibet right now is effectively crushed by the reigning Chinese government.)
While America is generally bereft of these problems, there is still a gap between the middle class and the very poor. The drug trade is where this inequality is felt the most. As in the case of prostitution, it is far more likely that someone would deal drugs on the street and make $200 an hour than work their arses off for minimum wage (as one character points out in the film). In this sense, ant-drug laws only serve to raise the wages of these dealers, since it increases the demand for getting hold of a controlled substance. Soderberg and Gaghan point out that the solution to any drug abuse "problem", as it were, may be closer to home than one realises.