As more and more states across the country legalize marijuana, and as popular opinion toward the war on drugs sours, Dr. Carl L. Hart’s new book arrives at the perfect time. In Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, Hart makes a thoughtful and persuasive (if controversial) case that everything we’ve been taught about drug use is wrong and that it’s high time we legalize all drugs and consider a more humane way forward.
Hart, a scientist and a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, is an expert in drug abuse and addiction. He’s also a recreational drug user. Through careful research and illuminating personal stories, Hart dispels many drug myths and shows us that happiness can be found through responsible drug use, just as through drinking alcohol responsibly. He argues that if we truly believe in liberty as established in the Declaration of Independence, then the pursuit of this particular happiness should also be part of our protected civil liberties.
Even though we mostly hear about the dangers of drugs, most drug users are functional adults who experience no negative effects from their drug use, according to Hart’s research. He also posits that illegal drugs are dangerous because they are illegal, not because they are inherently dangerous substances. What makes a drug truly dangerous is its unregulated quality and potency, as well as ignorance about mixing drugs. Hart laments the opioid crisis in his book, while arguing that most overdoses and deaths related to drug use wouldn’t occur if the person knew what they were taking. He also suggests that opioid deaths and other overdoses would decrease if people had access to regulated opioid products, rather than forms of the drug that are laced with powerful and sometimes deadly additives.
Hart’s scientific training and personal use of drugs has informed his research and opinions, but the book is also shaped by his experience as a Black man. Although drug use is popular across all races, Black people—and Black men in particular—have been penalized for possessing and selling drugs at far higher rates than any other group. Hart convincingly asserts that this discriminatory enforcement of drug laws has had a more devastating effect on Black communities than drug use itself.
Drug Use for Grown-Ups argues that it makes no sense to continue the war on drugs, which has failed to put even a dent in the illegal drug trade. Throughout history, people have always taken drugs, and they are a part of our society. This book’s soundly researched views on a safer approach to drug use and regulation will have many readers rethinking their assumptions.