Columbia University psychologist Carl Hart, author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood and went on to become Columbia’s first tenured black science professor.
Hart argues that laws, public policy, and much scientific discourse on drugs is misdirected, based on myth rather than science, and used to disguise the real causes of the conditions attributed to illegal drug use.
As physician Suzanne Koven wrote in her Boston Globe review of Hart’s book:
Hart’s personal story supports his broader argument. If drugs alone caused poverty, crime, and family dysfunction, Hart would have been unlikely to grow up to be a happily married father and tenured Ivy League faculty member.
Here’s his response to Alternet’s Kristen Gwynne’s question, “What is actually responsible for problems often linked to drugs?”
Poverty. And there are policies that have played a role, too. Policies like placing a large percentage of our law enforcement resources in those communities, so that when people get charged with some petty crime, they have a blemish on their record that further decreases their ability to join mainstream, get a job that’s meaningful, and that sort of thing.
The policy decisions that we make play a far bigger role than the drugs themselves. When I turned 14, for example, there was a federal government program that, in order to keep kids like me out of the streets, gave us jobs. Under these federal government programs, we had money for the summer, for clothing—it was great. When we cut these types of programs and kids have nowhere to go what do you expect to happen? It doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure this out.
Now, I have an 18-year-old who, this summer, won’t have anything to do. I’m trying to find him some sort of work. Having a federal government program for underprivileged children, that was great. That let kids know that the society might care about you. We teach them work skills, we teach them something about responsibility, we make sure they have money in their pockets. Now, you take away all of this, and you miss the chance to teach them about responsibility. You miss the opportunity to help them put food on the table, to put clothes on their backs.