Columbia professor advocates drug education

Leila Ruiz

Columbia University psychologist Carl Hart said decriminalizing drugs in the United States would do more good than continuing to fund costly drug prevention efforts at a speech Thursday sponsored in part by three UT departments.

Hart discussed his views on American drug policy and how race dynamics affect the legal side of the drug war. The University departments that sponsored the event are the department of psychology, the Warfield Center for African and African-American Studies and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Hart said that while he was serving with the Air Force overseas in England in 1985, he began learning more about the issue of race relations in America and the crack cocaine abuse epidemic associated with it. Hart said this caused him to dedicate his career to science because he wanted to figure out what was occurring in the brains of drug addicts and find a neurobiological solution to their addiction.

“[After I left the U.S.,] I started to become educated, and I started to see all the inconsistencies,” Hart said.

Hart said he believes the issue is drug policy rather than drug use.

The 2013 National Drug Control budget requested $25.6 billion for drug prevention efforts, according to a April 2012 White House report on the National Drug Control Strategy. 

Hart said he believes the increase in abuse-prevention funding has not facilitated significant improvement in drug abuse rates. In addition, Hart said he believes abuse-prevention funding is a method of deferring responsibility.

“It’s a lot easier to face and blame crack cocaine than job issues, education problems, structural barriers like racism [and] lack of opportunities in general,” Hart said.

Hart said this shift of blame allows the media and government to stigmatize drug use and lead people to believe that one hit can lead to addiction.

“[People shouldn’t] buy into government propaganda,” said Stephanie Hamborsky, a Plan II and biology sophomore. “People should be more critical of information given to them.”

Hart, an advocate for drug decriminalization, said he believes abuse-prevention funding could be deferred to education on the effects of drug use.

Cheyanne Weldon, executive director of the Texas chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said she agrees with the opinions of Hart.

“We can’t legislate morality,” Weldon said. “We can’t control what people do behind closed doors…There has to be a different way of looking at it.”