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The community design argument for open drug use

Posted byWritten by David

We can decriminalize and make drugs legal, but the consequences are unconscionable without better designed and operating communities

Dr. Carl Hart’s new book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear,” continues to push the envelope on how we think about drugs, policies around drugs, and addiction.

I’ll read the book, just as I’ve read most of Dr. Carl Hart’s work, but … yeah, there’s a big but here. On the surface, Dr. Hart is dancing dangerously close with complete irresponsibility.

His argument for decriminalization and legalization of drugs is that responsible adults can (a) choose for themselves (the liberty/Declaration of Independence argument); and (b) in reasonable amounts, drugs have positive benefits.

Here’s the problem w/ his premise. His early work was all about getting the mainstream to understand implications of the “rat park” studies. Rats in a social, enriching, & engaging environment took morphine at lower rates than rats kept in solitary, sad cages w/ no alternatives.

As Dr. Hart goes home to his safe, protected home after a day as a professor at Columbia University, he is the rat wrapped in a privileged world of abundance and psychological safety.

Why is his new posturing dangerous? People living in despair, in social and economically depressed communities will scream “FREEDOM” and take all the drugs in the name of liberty and personal responsibility. Most won’t have the psychological safety, experiencing adverse effects.

People living in poorly designed communities, rife with inequality, discrimination, and little hope and opportunity will not experience what Dr. Hart experiences. They are living in the opposite of rat park.

Where I applaud Dr. Hart is in driving us to have this very conversation. For Dr. Hart’s experience of taking heroin daily – if that’s really your thing – we need to completely reimagine our cities and towns. We need to drastically disrupt the political and civic status quo.

We need 15-minute cites, complete streets, more walking, less cars, more equal land ownership, smart density in smaller towns and villages.

We’ll solve addiction when we don’t solve for addiction. That’s the argument Dr. Hart is making and I’m absolutely for it. But the “we’re adults and can responsibly take drugs” is fraught with disaster.

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