How Neuroscience Reinforces Racist Drug Policy


A recent neuroscience study from Harvard Medical School claims to have discovered brain differences between people who smoke marijuana and people who do not. Such well-intentioned and seemingly objective science is actually a new chapter in a politicized and bigoted history of drug science in the United States. Different-looking brains tell us literally nothing about who these people are, what their lives are like, why they do or do not use marijuana, or what effects marijuana has had on them.

“You’re enough of a pro to know that to come out with something counter to what the Congress feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.”

When Nixon was in office, he kept for his personal records now famous audio recordings of his interactions with individuals in the Oval Office. There is one such recording with Raymond Shafer himself, who is more or less told that marijuana was to remain classified as a Schedule I narcotic, regardless of his findings.

“You’re enough of a pro,” Nixon tells him, “to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.” This conversation was recorded in 1971—the year before the Commission released its report.

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