A Miami native, Hart grew up around drugs in the hood, and joining the US Air Force helped pay for his higher education. Hart obtained a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Wyoming, and did fellowship and post-graduate work at Columbia, Yale, and UCSF. He’s also a father of three and Columbia University’s first tenured African-American professor in the sciences.
In 2014, Hart won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his 2013 book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. That book details how drugs and drug addiction is a simple, easy scapegoat for much more complicated problems of race and poverty in society.
[jump] Almost all people who use drugs are responsible individuals, his research found. Yet American drug policy has helped make the US the world leader in incarceration. In the black community, US drug policy followed slavery and Jim Crow. Blacks are 3.73 times as likely as whites to be arrested for pot, despite similar usage rates nationwide. In some places, such as Washington DC, blacks were eight times as likely, a 2013 ACLU report indicated. In November, DC legalized marijuana by a landslide.
Wednesday, we published in print the first in a series of excerpts from of our conversation with professor Hart, wherein he details how biased pot research undermines science’s credibility, and contributes in — its own way — to things like anti-vaxxers, and inaction on global warming.
Here, on the Legalization Nation blog we excerpt another segment of our talk. You can listen to Hart’s full interview if you subscribe to our new podcast, The Hash (also on iTunes), which debuts a new season of stories in March.
Below, Hart addresses the black community’s concerns with pot legalization, as well as drug warriors who claim to be defending the hood.
Legalization Nation: In California, a frequently cited critic of Proposition 19 in 2010 was a self-appointed Bishop Ron Allen of Sacramento. I saw an echo of that in the Washington DC legalization campaign last year where the face of the local opposition was a young African-American. What’s going on here with the black religious community seeking to perpetuate the incarceration of their own flock?
Hart: It’s just part of them being miseducated and misinformed.
On the one hand, again I sympathize, in that they are trying to figure out what’s going on with black folks and such that we are getting left behind. And drugs has always been an easy tool to focus on and look at as the reason, because you don’t need much sophistication to point to a drug. You don’t need to even have much critical thinking abilities or skills. And the country has told them that for many years. During the Reagan era, and subsequently, they’ve been told these lies. That’s what High Price [is about]. I’m trying to help dispel some of this mythology — but they just don’t know.
When people are provided with good information they’ll make the change.
LN: It’s been pretty stunning to see former White House drug czar staffer Kevin Sabet try to take the moral high ground, and claim prohibition is about protecting poor communities that already have a disproportionate amount of liquor stores. How does that argument, from him, hit you?
Hart: On a personal level, just not as sort of talking about drugs or anything important, I like Kevin. I think he’s a nice guy, but when it comes to the whole drug thing, he’s disingenuous. That’s just — [sighs].
Simply, if Kevin was concerned about the hood, Kevin [would be giving more than] superficial lip service to over-incarceration.
Kevin is not the person to be talking about the black community in any way like he cares about the plight of the black community. It’s laughable.
It’s hard for me to really talk about this, because on the one hand, I like him he and I hang out just talking, but when it comes to these issues of great importance, particularly as it relates to black people, he should shut his mouth.