That is the core view of Carl Hart, Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Columbia University, New York. In this 37the 37th episode of TrustTalk, he talks about the “responsible drug user” and describes the negative societal effects of vilifying drug use.
Drug Use and Criminalization
Answering the question of whether drugs use leads to criminalization, he replies:
that is the wrong way of looking at it. But let’s just say people are concerned about, I don’t know, people who sell drugs illegally. They worry that those people may engage in some abhorrent behaviours, like killing people. We have laws against that sort of thing, number one and number two, that’s a pure function of having drugs be illegal. If drugs were legally regulated, then you wouldn’t have those kinds of issues where someone who sold drugs or what have you is fighting for territory or they’re on trial for doing so illegally and now they kill someone. So that’s a function of how we are banning these substances and not regulating them.
About the advantages of legal regulation of drugs:
I think that legal regulation certainly would take care of a lot of problems. It would certainly take care of having drug adulterants be introduced into the model, into the market where people die from contaminated drugs. It would also deal with the issue of the legality of the sales and what regulates people who actually sell the drugs. So yeah, I don’t think of, I don’t think it would be a panacea for problems that are in a society. And so that’s one of the things we have to be careful about, because if you regulate drugs, then you also now you have a different set of problems, and those problems, of course, are common to all human endeavour. And so I don’t want people to think that all of a sudden all your problems go away. That’s not how the world works when humans are involved.
Can we trust drugs not to lead to addiction?
Drugs certainly can be addictive, that’s absolutely true. Just like sexual behaviour, just like some types of food. I mean, there are a number of things that activities in which humans engage can be addictive, but it’s important for people to understand that drug addiction itself has very little to do with drugs. You quoted the stat earlier, where we have 70 to 90 percent of the people who use drugs, they aren’t addicted. When you have the vast majority of drug users of any drug not becoming addicted, then that tells you have to look beyond the drug to figure out where the addiction problem is because it doesn’t lie in the drug only, or the drug itself. It’s it has to do with a number of psychosocial barriers, variables and a whole range of other issues, and we tend to stop at the drug.
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Carl Hart published a number of books, his latest one is “Drug Use for Grown-Ups, Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear”
From the New York Times review of the book (by Casey Schwartz:
Our drug policies have resulted in the wildly disproportionate imprisonment of Black Americans. As Hart argues, the drug war has in fact succeeded, not because it has reduced illegal drug use in the United States (it hasn’t), but because it has boosted prison and policing budgets, its true, if unstated, purpose. In his last book, “High Price,” Hart described his evolving views on drugs and those who use them, a gradual rejection of the overly simplistic idea that drugs are inherently evil, the destroyers of people and neighborhoods.
and, about his research findings (again, New York Times’ review by Casey Schwartz)
“I discovered that the predominant effects produced by the drugs discussed in this book are positive. It didn’t matter whether the drug in question was cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or psilocybin.” The positive effects Hart cites include greater empathy, altruism, gratitude and sense of purpose. For Hart personally, coming home and smoking heroin at the end of the day helps him to “suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head,” he writes.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
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All audio editing is done by Steigerstudios, Veenendaal, The Netherlands