LeRon Barton is the author of Straight Dope: A 360 Degree Look into American Drug Culture. This book looks into American drug culture and delves into why drugs are so prevalent in America. Barton asks the hard questions in the book, like why are drugs so entrenched in America? He interviews drug addicts, drug sellers, teachers, counselors and parents to find an answer. This is the first book that gives an uncut, uncensored look into drugs in America.
Why did you write Straight Dope?
I wanted to ask the question: Why are drugs so inundated in American society. And through doing this, I wanted Straight Dope to be 100% real, so I decided to go “straight” to the source and talk to the people who are directly involved – the dealers, addicts, teachers of students living in drug addled homes, drug counselors, recovering addicts, and parents. I didn’t want Straight Dope to be politically correct infused with theory; I wanted it to be real.
Why are Americans so into drugs?
Man, that is a very good question. There are so many reasons why, I think that people in general have always been into escaping reality, rather it be through alcohol or any type of drugs. I believe another reason is that drugs have always been in vogue. We have always celebrated getting high, “expanding or minds” and bullshit like that. Again, throughout the history of this country, folks have always wanted to “check out.”
What do you think about the incarcerations rates and the War on Drugs?
They go hand in hand. The “War on Drugs” is its own little industry. If you think the government really wants to stop this, you need to check yourself. Think about it: If the War on Drugs suddenly stopped today, there would be mad police officers, public defenders, judges, defense attorneys, prison guards, and anti-drug advocates on the bread line. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the War on Drugs is nothing but job security and is the most racist, classist thing in America.
What is the future of the War on Drugs?
It is going to just keep going. Like I said, this is job security. Yeah, they may show a couple of big busts on TV every now and then to make it seem as if the government is concerned, but in reality, for every major seizure, there are 10 that are going undetected.
One thing that I do see happening within the next twenty years is marijuana becoming more mainstream. Today I heard Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome at a Democratic convention advocate for the de-criminalization of marijuana and possibly making it legal. I am not a marijuana user, but I 100% feel like the prisons are too over crowded with bullshit busts over weed. With all of those resources being allocated to locking up pot dealers and eventually messing their lives up, we could legalize and tax it, therefore creating a revenue stream that we can use. This would allow us to not raise taxes and put some of money towards drug treatment and recidivism programs.
How can we help addicts?
The most powerful quote in my book was from Carolyn. She said, “An addict has a disease and they need to be treated like they are sick. You don’t put cancer patients in jail do you?” I too agree that addicts need to be treated and not imprisoned. I believe that when we start looking at addiction as a disease, then we can formulate a better treatment. If we lock them up, how is that helping? We are housing them with very little to no treatment, then when they are released, people are put back out into the world with no tools. And more than likely they will re-offend to get high.
What are your thoughts on legalization?
I am for legalization of marijuana, it is about time. As far as harder drugs, absolutely not. Cocaine should not be legal.
What did you learn writing this book?
That everyone’s story and experience is different. When dealing with drugs, nothing is black and white. There are so many grey areas.
What do you think of the prison industry?
The prison industry is built on recidivism, not rehabilitation. It is a society that is built on pitting people against each other based on race, ethnic group, gang affiliation, etc. You warehouse people, put them in an environment that does not foster growth or education, and create a place that breeds hate and bitterness. Then when a prisoner is released, he or she does not have many opportunities available because of their record, are we surprised that they turn back to crime?
What do you think of the crack epidemic?
The crack epidemic created a vacuum within inner-cities that sucked up people’s lives and futures. It seemed that after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, there was progress to be made by African-American, Latino, and lower income white communities to make gains in the country. When crack came, it decimated any type of promise. It destroyed families, gave young men this ill-advised way to make money, and set the stage for this type of aggressive racist treatment by the police. Some people made money, but at what cost? You helped destroy your community. You were working hand in hand with the government to forever hold down minorities and lower income communities, and the effects are still being felt today.
How does the drug culture affect gangs?
Before the easy access of drugs, the gangs were dangerous in their neighborhoods, but not a real threat. After crack cocaine, you saw the gangs get more and more dangerous, more and more organized and unified, like an organized crime outfit. The conflicts went from fistfights to shootouts. You had young guys, around 10, 12 years old holding 9mms. Why? Because of the drugs. With drugs came money, and with money came the ability to purchase semi-automatic rifles to use on the opposition, and cars so that they could leave their neighborhood and go elsewhere and spread. The correlation between the crack epidemic and the growth of gangs cannot be understated.
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