Recently news channels and websites across the country began reporting that D.A.R.E. removed cannabis as a gateway drug and that they were no longer teaching about marijuana in their programs. This ended up being a mistake caused by a posting of an automatic news feed on their blog, but it sparked quite the conversation about the program finally coming around to cannabis’ medicinal nature.
Even though it was untrue, the news reports made some in the GreenSea office go “hmmm” (queue ’90s dance song here). I dove into some research about the D.A.R.E program to see if they could ever play nice with the cannabis industry.
D.A.R.E.’s Cannabis Views
If you were a sentient American as early as the mid-1980s on, then you have heard of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program. Founded in 1983, the program has long been a staple in schools across the country. For the past 30 years, D.A.R.E.’s vision has been a “world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.”
D.A.R.E. has been one of the more vocal voices against cannabis legalization. They have long campaigned that cannabis is a “gateway drug” and in their article, “Let’s Not Kid Ourselves About Marijuana,” they claim, “Marijuana impairs learning, judgment and memory—no small matters during the adolescent years—and it can do lasting harm to the brain.” While these claims/opinions don’t necessarily hold up to serious science, that hasn’t stopped the program from fighting against cannabis legalization.
After reports were released that D.A.R.E. was relaxing their views on cannabis, Ron Brogan, D.A.R.E. regional director, confirmed to the Huffington Post that “a service we use put this post up in error” and “we have not changed our stance that we are opposed to marijuana legalization.”
No matter what their stance on cannabis is, it’s clear that D.A.R.E is focused on keeping minors away from unsafe and unhealthy substances.
Regulated Cannabis Industry & D.A.R.E Share Concerns
As states continue to vote on cannabis legalization, one thing that has been common across the board is each state’s concern about teenage drug use.
The Oregon Health Authority (which governs the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) has launched a program called “Stay True to You,” which aims to lower first-time cannabis consumption in teenagers. It even goes so far as to remind teens that they may be role models for younger siblings and that they could influence those younger people towards drug use through copying behaviors.
Colorado has it’s own program aimed at lowering teenage cannabis consumption. The “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” campaign presents statistics from both sides of the issues to youths that may or may not be true and points out that they don’t want to find out the hard way. When this campaign was criticized and didn’t reach the intended goals of the program, it was re-branded and launched as the “What’s Next” program. This program is a more thoughtful approach to teaching children and teens the potential health and social consequences of underage cannabis consumption.
These programs are similar to the newest D.A.R.E. program, “Keeping it REAL.” Both are evidence-based educational programs, which provide anecdotal and scientific based reasoning behind drug, alcohol and tobacco abstinence. Keeping it REAL is even lightening up on the “gateway drug” thing a bit; they no longer teach it in 5th, 6th or 7th graders, unless the school has deemed there to be a problem with underage cannabis consumption in the area.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Let’s take a moment to compare D.A.R.E.’s specific mission statement and state-funded programs in states with legalized recreational cannabis. I believe that D.A.R.E and the regulated cannabis industry could be very good friends!
D.A.R.E’s mission is: “Teaching students good decision-making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives”.
- Oregon provides parents a guide called “Preventing Underage Marijuana Use” that discusses how to talk to your children about cannabis use and how to prevent underage consumption.
- Colorado’s “What’s Next” programs talks about the consequences teens may face if they are caught consuming cannabis before they are 21.
- Washington state launched the “Listen to Your Selfie” program. This program is to help children and teens “Focus on what’s important, forget marijuana.” They have a consequences page that discusses real world consequences that aren’t based in reefer madness.
As you can see, everyone has the same goal here. To prevent underage children from consuming cannabis.
If D.A.R.E. is serious in its mission to prevent the use/abuse of cannabis amongst teens, or even adults, it is well proven that a regulated market is the most sensible approach.
It is also proven that criminalization creates criminals and has not made any impact in curbing usage. In fact, criminalization may very well be one of the largest contributing factors in making cannabis widely available to anyone (including children). As criminal organizations rarely (never) ask for proof of age and make their wares available 24 hours a day.
It is also well known among the greater scientific and medical community that cannabis is not a gateway drug and the vast majority of correlation between cannabis usage and other usage can be explained in the following ways:
- Exposure—Your unregulated source also carries, and thus exposes you, to other illicit “harder” substances.
- Propaganda—You try cannabis and realize very quickly that the propaganda you’ve been fed up to then is not true. You didn’t jump out of a window thinking you could fly, you didn’t rape anyone, you didn’t die. In fact, you may have felt pretty good and had a laugh (there’s a reason humans like to get high); studies show a decrease in violence and aggressive behavior in long-term cannabis consumers. “So now what else have they been not telling me the truth about? Perhaps meth or heroin aren’t as dangerous as they say either?”
- The gate opens the other way—Using cannabis was not your gateway to drink or use other drugs, illicit or not. Other substances were your gateway to cannabis.
- D.A.R.E. or S.C.A.R.E.—There’s a reason horror movies do so well in the theaters. People like to be scared. D.A.R.E.’s scare tactics may have backfired and actually attracted children to cannabis use.
Cannabis legalization brings with it a host of regulations and public health programs, and recent reports show that consumption under 21 has actually declined in states where legalization has occurred!
Since D.A.R.E.’s focus is on reducing/eliminating drug and alcohol use among children and teens with less emphasis in regard to adults abstinence, isn’t it in the best interests of the D.A.R.E. program and our children to further legalization and regulatory efforts?
We should all be working together toward a future where cannabis is safely available and highly regulated like alcohol or tobacco. The best way to ensure our youth are able to make safe, well-informed life choices is with honest guidance and a fact-based, not fear-based, education.
This article has been republished with permission from the GreenSea Distribution blog.
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