Drug Policy

Dr. Carl Hart: 'I Am Better for My Drug Use'

The maverick Columbia neuroscientist explains why America should embrace drug legalization for all.


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In a world where drug legalization efforts are on the march and the pernicious effects of drug prohibition on criminal justice, education, foreign policy, and racial and ethnic communities are being scrutinized like never before, Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart is breaking bold new ground on how we think about drug policy, substance use and abuse, and individual freedom.

In his controversial book Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, Hart makes the case that adults should be free to use the intoxicants of their choosing. "The Declaration of Independence 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," says Hart. "That means we get to live our life as we choose, as we see fit. Taking drugs is a part of that for a lot of Americans." He writes that his use of drugs—including heroin—helps him be a better person. "I do not have a drug-use problem," he declares. "Never have. Each day, I meet my parental, personal, and professional responsibilities. I pay my taxes, serve as a volunteer in my community…and contribute to the global community as an informed and engaged citizen."

In this live taping of The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie, Hart talks about all that, his path-breaking research on addiction, how he turned from an ardent supporter of the drug war to one of its leading critics, elitism within the legalization movement, and how he talks with his kids and his students about responsible drug use.

Interview by Nick Gillespie; edited by Adam Czarnecki.

Photo Credits: Shane T. Mccoy/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Jim Gehrz/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Francois Pesant/Polaris/Newscom

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  1. I'm currently in Las Vegas. Wife has MS so elevators have to be used around the Strip. Seen two men, unsure if either were alive, in elevators on the ground. Not going to ride with that either way.

    There are major negatives to quality of life with total legalization that need to be examined.

    1. And each individual should do so in their own way. And if there are bums in elevators, maybe the folks that own the elevators should get them out. Or you could have helped them if you felt so inclined.

      1. I'm not going to mess with a tweaker even if he looks passed out thank you very much.

    2. Just a slightly different view on that situation -- that's what is happening WITH prohibition. So, will legalization make it worse? I can't say that it is a guarantee, especially considering the only historical precedent I know, alcohol, where prohibition led to greater consumption, not less.

      Sorry to hear about your wife's MS. A high-school friend's mother struggled with that from her early 50s. The fatigue was very hard on her.

      1. Just a slightly different view on that situation -- that's what is happening WITH prohibition.


        It's important not to overlook that prohibition is not a neutral phenomenon - it also has "major negatives to quality of life."

        1. No argument. I don't think total prohibition is a good solution either. But both sides need to look at the negatives of their approach. Prohibitionists tend to overlook the over-policing of society to pursue those aims. Legalization supporters ignore the declines in quality of life that their policies also cause.

          There is no actual panacaea for this issue.

          1. No, there is no panacaea. I don't think there is for anything at all, life is all about imperfect choices. If it wasn't, the notion of individual liberty would not matter, but there's never a universal best for everyone, every time.

            For the druggies, legalization is not advocacy. Well, in the above article it sort of is, but...

            An analogy. I'm very against seatbelt laws, and helmet laws, in theory. However, I would NEVER ride my motorcycle without a helmet, boots, armor. I know my airbags work, but are designed to work with my seatbelt in place. I make these choices and heavily advocate for making these choices even if you are free to do otherwise.

            The decline in quality of life from drug addiction is not unknown. I don't partake beyond coffee, a beer once a month or so, and the occasional iburprofin myself, but have friends who smoke the reefer and did so even when it was not legal. Others did harder drugs. We all made our choices.

            The characters you met in the elevators chose their pursuits regardless of the fact that it was very illegal. I would suggest they will continue to do so, legal, illegal, with mandatory drugs are bad training in school, pictures of bums dead of overdoses on the packs of legal H like the diseased lung on a pack of cigarettes, or any other warning or prohibition.

            So I err on the side of allowing me to do my own thing, allowing my friends to smoke their dope if they want, and not prohibiting responsible people from choosing for themselves because some fucktard wants to destroy themselves to sleep in the arms of Morpheus.

            Saving people from themselves is how we've raced to the bottom. We're a society of the lowest common denominator anymore, one forced to ask permission for things that should be natural rights. I can't do things because someone else is stupid or abusive. I prefer to make people choose, and set a societal expectation that they be responsible for themselves.

    3. How did these men get the drugs if they aren't legal?

    4. What is the bigger negative to you? That people are not living the lives you think they should, or that you found their proximity disturbing?

      1. Finding potentially dead bodies in elevators used by handicapped or families is a bit of a problem, yes.

        1. You sound like the kind of bigot who objects to having to step around human feces and avoid people publicly shooting up in San Francisco, too.

    5. Dami, you’re a fucking idiot if you think non addicts will turn into bums half dead on the street. Legalizing would actually fix half the addicts, and wouldn’t make any new ones.

  2. We going to remove the medical coverage under Obamacare and other welfare programs or is this just a screed to push the externalities of personal decisions onto others?

    1. Should his children become addicts, I am sure it would be our fault.

    2. "... to push the externalities of personal decisions onto others?" And really, let's not bullshit ourselves here, this is exactly what legalization for a lot of people is all about.

  3. *Sigh*

    Another Ivory Tower Dweller boldly breaking new ground that Timothy Leary mapped out 60 yrs. ago.

    1. *sigh*

      Who is himself another Ivory Tower Dweller that boldly broke new ground that Lysander Spooner mapped out about 100 years before him...and *sigh* I'm sure there was someone before him that boldly did the same thing...

      1. You're doing disservice to Hart, Leary, *and* Spooner.

  4. if his reason isn't "because this is a free country and you own your own body" then he's wrong.

    1. Just don't forget to wear a seatbelt, order a 32 oz softdrink in NYC, or try to purchase flavored e-cigarettes online.

      1. Nobody needs 23 kinds of liberty.

        1. Just one would be nice.

  5. I can't object to "hard" drug use. Some of the most peaceful, caring, and selfless people I know use opioids and they tell me they can quit anytime they want.

    1. Some of the most brilliant and successful people I know use opioids and can't quit because it makes it possible for them to function.

      1. Can you give some examples? Not being a dick or asking for names, just genuinely interested in what kind of people or circumstances.
        Everyone I know that uses is a waste of skin, so it'd be nice to hear a different experience.

        1. He probably had Sherlock Holmes in mind. /sarc

        2. I'm thinking of actual medical necessity for chronic pain, which admittedly is a bit different. But people like that are having their use questioned at this point too, which is really bad.
          One person I know in those circumstances is one of the country's leading emergency psychiatrists.

  6. "helps him be a better person"

    Rubbish, clearly when he is expressing his ability to pay taxes, serve as a volunteer in his community…and "contribute to the global community as an informed and engaged citizen" as being in spite of the use. Kudos, I suppose, to him for keeping it together, but blanket legalization will no nothing to reduce the number of unconscious hoboes stumbling around our inner cities or addicts further oxidizing the rust belt. His prescription is mutually exclusive with reforming penalties and treatments for the addicts we already have.

  7. You can tell he's a "maverick" because of his supercool dreads. Kind of like how Goth Fonzie's leather jacket marks him as a contrarian iconoclast.

  8. If you want to go full 'Lord the Flies' stupid, then you must insist that they take out and maintain the appropriate insurance to cover the costs of the risks that they want to assume and pay for the social services they will consume. Since that's probably impossible to manage and enforce, "...Let's Call the Whole Thing Off..." (G. Gershwin).

  9. What a load of self-serving bullshite.

    He starts with the false equivalency that his drug use is no different than that of a career criminal and then proceeds to glorify his use calming it makes him a "better" person.

    No one EVER became a better person by using heroin

    1. Have you interviewed everyone who's ever used heroin before you came to this conclusion? Or did you spend all your time learning how to type EVER in caps because that's how DARE's spelled? Those caps don't make your assertions true, just loud.

  10. America is too feeble and cowardly to embrace liberty and he thinks it will embrace total drug legalization… The very fact that drugs are illegal show what America fears the most: freedom.

  11. I do not think you are much so what were you before? Not much.
    A whole lot of babies are clearly NOT better for their mothers use of drugs.

  12. I agree with Dr. Hart. However, Hart is the exception. The fact is that millions of people that take drugs lack self-control, which can lead to addiction and lack of responsibility.

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