Drug Policy

'I Use Heroin to Be a Better Person': Columbia University Neuroscientist Carl Hart

His new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, is a provocative manifesto for legalizing all drugs.


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Carl Hart is a 54-year-old Air Force veteran, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, and an unapologetic recreational user of heroin.

"I use heroin," he tells Reason, "in part because it's really good at helping me to unwind, to be more forgiving of other people, to look at my own behavior and see where I need to modify in order to be a more responsible person, in order to be a better person."

Hart's new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, is a provocative manifesto for legalizing all drugs and letting responsible adults use the intoxicants of their choosing. He is coming out of the "chemical closet" because he says the costs of the drug war—the violence that attends to black markets, the creation of a prison-industrial complex, the destruction of minority neighborhoods, the perversion of justice, and more—are too great to bear.

He says prohibition is based on a series of lies about substance abuse, and he documents that the overwhelming majority of drug users—even of hard drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine—use responsibly and are no more likely to develop problems than drinkers.

More important, Hart says drug prohibition is inimical to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which "guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, as long as we don't disrupt anybody else's ability to do the same. We get to live our life as we choose, as we see fit and taking drugs can be a part of that. And it is a part of that for a lot of Americans."

Opera house: Photo 29350232 © Serban Enache | Dreamstime.com, Methamphetamine: Photo 59084394 © Daniel Kaesler | Dreamstime.com, Heroin: Photo 175304146 © Feriansyah Pz | Dreamstime.com, Men: Photo 85566591 © Wisconsinart | Dreamstime.com, Field: Photo 191556262 © | Dreamstime.com, Binocular: Photo 17693275 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com, Heroin: Photo 209101787 © Majo1122331 | Dreamstime.com, House in field: Photo 149474381 © Charmphoto | Dreamstime.com, Teenagers: Photo 180950138 © Dmytro Tolmachov | Dreamstime.com, Couple: Photo 129923072 © Mariia Kalinichenko | Dreamstime.com, Statue of Liberty: Photo 108954099 © Byelikova | Dreamstime.com, Cocaine: Photo 135335692 © Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com, Photo 101949361 © Ded Mityay | Dreamstime.com, Adderall: Photo 178129745 © Colin Temple | Dreamstime.com MDMA: Photo 109474106 © Couperfield | Dreamstime.com, Photo 181220345 © Eskymaks | Dreamstime.com, Photo 177051537 © Olha Karpovych | Dreamstime.com, Pills: Photo 159435400 © Fortton | Dreamstime.com; Alcohol and pills: Photo 69273380 © Feverpitched | Dreamstime.com; Columbia University: Photo 53231440 © Gabriel Robledo | Dreamstime.com, Leslie Spurlock/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Kristopher Skinner/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Stan Carroll/ZUMApress/Newscom, Yuko Saito-Miller/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Yuko Saito-Miller/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Sam Harrel/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom