The first African American tenured scientist at Columbia University and groundbreaking neuropsychopharmacologist said Wednesday that there have been a lot of exaggerated statements, misstatements and claims about marijuana that are not accurate.
Carl Hart, a professor of psychology who advocates the use of science in the formation of drug policy, is scheduled to be the first speaker at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research 2017 Conference Friday.
As part of its ongoing public lecture series, The Center for Teaching and Learning at CSU-Pueblo will also host Hart at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hoag Recital Hall on the CSU-Pueblo campus. Hart will present “Federal Marijuana Policies and Racial Discrimination.”
“I am going to speak about marijuana and some of the legislative moves that have happened around the country and what that means. I am also going to speak about marijuana science and what people have said about marijuana,” Hart said during an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain Wednesday.
Hart, chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University and the Dirk Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, said he is also going to talk about why marijuana research is biased toward the negative effect.
“When you look at the scientific literature, the major focus is trying to understand the negative effects that occur at the drug use,” Hart said.
“The problem is that it may seem as though marijuana is negative when, in fact, that isn’t true. It’s just that’s what we focus on typically in the scientific literature.”
Hart, who has spent nearly 20 years studying the neurophysiological, psychological and behavioral effects of recreational drugs, including marijuana, said the negative effects shape and drive funding for research, so that is one reason for the negative bias.
He said there is a socio-political environment where certain drugs are deemed evil and any use of these drugs is considered pathological.
“People are uncomfortable with maybe saying something that led to someone using a drug and then later they had problems with that drug,” Hart said.
“Those two reasons drive this bias.”
Hart said there are lots of people in the country who smoked marijuana before it was legal and they still do so without any problems.
He said the last three U.S. presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — all smoked marijuana when they were younger, and it didn’t have a detrimental effect on them.
“We drink alcohol – not on the job, of course – but after work or during your down time. It’s the same sort of thing,” Hart said.
“We have the same concerns, the same issues with those effects.”
Hart said the formation of the Institute of Cannabis Research is great for the community.
He said scholars can study the effects of marijuana that are unique to the community.
“Good evidence and good research can help us to know how to deal with it. I think that is a great thing,” Hart said.
Hart’s website includes the following pledge, which alludes to his belief that science should be driving the drug policy in our nation: “I am committed to the people who are sick and tired of seeing their tax dollars being used to fund unethical people, which ultimately perpetuates social inequality and does not lead to effective drug policy. A key element of my approach is the use of empirical evidence to guide public policy, even if it makes us uncomfortable. If we do this, we could have more humane and effective drug and criminal justice policies, and a healthier and happier society overall.”
Donna Souder Hodge, executive director of CSU-Pueblo’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said it’s important to bring in experts who can lead the community in the complicated discussions surrounding federal and state marijuana policies.
“Carl Hart is a scientist, educator and activist, and his research, personal experiences and public lectures on the criminalization of addiction and its resultant impact on poor and rural communities is a significant piece of this ongoing dialogue — one that is increasingly important in Colorado,” she said
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