Daring America to Stop Marijuana Legalization

Remember the D.A.R.E. program?  The acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and the program uses police officers to teach school kids about illegal drugs. These days it’s called D.A.R.E. America, and their expanded mission is to teach “students good decision-making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives.” D.A.R.E has and continues to oppose marijuana’s legalization.

But before getting into the reasons they oppose marijuana legalization, it is worth noting that their drug abuse education and prevention programs don’t work. They are, in fact, a textbook case of ineffective program performance. Literally.

Pearson Education, a prominent publisher of university textbooks, is the publishers of “Criminal Justice and Criminology Research Methods” by Peter Kraska and W. Lawrence Neuman—a 2012 textbook used to teach aspiring criminal justice students, many of whom are seeking careers in law enforcement. One of the many topics addressed is called evaluation research, the assessment of the effectiveness of a program.

Kraska and Neuman explain that many programs are not questioned because of tradition, ideology or the fear of losing funding. They point to the D.A.R.E. program as an “excellent example” of this problem, as the “program’s many proponents make it difficult for those who raise questions about its effectiveness to be listened to.”

Nonetheless, there have been several studies of the program, and these have “raised serious questions” about its effectiveness. D.A.R.E has produced some positive outcomes, but studies have “raised serious doubts about whether these actions reduce drug use among teenagers.”

D.A.R.E. and marijuana prohibition have a lot in common. Neither of these programs work and their failure is used to argue that we need to increase their funding.

Kraska and Neuman note that the reaction by D.A.R.E. advocates has been to use these findings to argue that the program needs to be expanded.

“Failure is often construed by those with vested interests in a program as a reason to do more of the same,” they explain.

Today, D.A.R.E. America has a $5 million annual budget and implements a variety of programs focused on Internet, school and community safety, in addition to its traditional program of partnering with police agencies to teach kids about illegal drugs.

It should be no surprise, then, that D.A.R.E. America has a position paper on marijuana legalization.

“Simply put, legalization would drastically increase marijuana use and use disorder rates,” the organization states. They foresee incredible problems involving public safety and health “at a cost of billions to society in lost productivity, impaired driving, health care, and other costs.”  They are very concerned that a “relaxed attitude’ about marijuana will make it more available, and that reducing the “perception of harm” will contribute to increased use by teenagers.

D.A.R.E. argues that legal marijuana will usher in the next “Big Tobacco,” in which greedy capitalists exploit the nation’s youth, selling addiction for profit.  They believe that “Colorado’s experience is already going poorly.”

According to D.A.R.E., “the scientific verdict is in: marijuana can be addictive and dangerous” and despite the tax revenue that can be gained from legalization, the social and economic costs of addiction will be greater.

One of the most interesting items is their response to the claim that “legalization would remove the black market and stop enriching gangs.” They suggest that if legalization advocates say this, opponents should say the following:

“Criminal enterprises do not receive the majority of their funding from marijuana. Furthermore, with legal marijuana taxed and only available to adults, a black market will continue to thrive.The black market and illegal drug dealers will continue to function – and even flourish – under legalization, as people seek cheaper, untaxed marijuana.”

This response reveals one of the biggest weaknesses in the anti-legalization argument.

First, the issue here is the illegal marijuana market rather than the activities of criminal enterprises. Second, the idea of legalization is to have a reasonable tax on marijuana, one that results in a fair retail price, one that is not over-inflated by prohibition and one that attracts commerce from the illegal market. Over-taxing marijuana is a recipe for failure, and many public officials are aware of this. Third, one thing D.A.R.E. and other anti-marijuana groups rarely acknowledge is that the biggest reason teenagers have access to marijuana is because it is so profitable for teens to sell it.

This is why their programs are ineffective, and why prohibition is ineffective—prohibition supports a profitable illegal market that encourages teenagers to sell marijuana to other teens.

Message to America: Don’t listen to this D.A.R.E.

Look at their track record—they are popular, well-funded and too addicted to their own ideology to listen to reason. D.A.R.E. policies have been ineffective in the past, and their position on marijuana legalization has about as much credibility as their anti-drug program—popular with police but not very effective in getting the job done.

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