Drug Policy Alliance
With tongue firmly planted in her cheek, leading scholar, author and activist for youth drug education, Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D, from the Drug Policy Alliance, criticizes DARE’s ineffectiveness and expense for the last thirty years.
‘Just Say No’ Turns 30
Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D
If you are under 40, it is very likely that you, like 80 percent of schoolchildren in the U.S., were exposed to Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which celebrates its 30th birthday this month.
D.A.R.E. was created by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1983, following the rise of a conservative parents movement and First Lady Nancy Reagan in need of a cause. The purpose of D.A.R.E. was to teach students about the extreme dangers of drugs by sending friendly police officers into classrooms to help kids resist the temptation to experiment; to stand up in the face of peer pressure; and to “just say no.”
Because of its widespread use in elementary schools all across America (and in over 40 countries around the world), D.A.R.E .was evaluated extensively. The reviews consistently showed that while students enjoyed interacting with police (especially examining the sample cases of drugs used for show and tell), and may have been initially deterred, effects were short lived. In fact, by the time D.A.R.E. graduates reached their late teens and early 20s, many had forgotten what they had learned or rejected the exaggerated messages they’d heard. And by 2001, D.A.R.E. was deemed by none other than the United States Surgeon General, “an ineffective primary prevention program,” and lost 80 percent of its federal funding shortly thereafter.
Yet D.A.R.E .has kept going — trying to keep up with the times, at least rhetorically, with its new “Keepin’ it Real” curriculum. Last fall, I read with keen interest that the program in Washington State had been notified by national D.A.R.E., its oversight agency, that the subject of marijuana would be dropped from the curriculum.
What???? The very same D.A.R.E. program that taught my daughter that marijuana would lead to heroin addiction isn’t even mentioning pot? Had it given up its “reefer madness” campaign, perhaps in light of Washington’s Initiative 502 that legalized marijuana last November?
I had to call and hear for myself about these big changes.
President and CEO Frank Pegueros told me that, in fact, D.A.R.E. had changed. The didactic approach is gone, replaced by dialogue and discussion. “Just say no,” he said, “has gone by the wayside.” It sounded almost touchy feely to me.
I was encouraged, thinking for a brief moment that the chorus of anti-D.A.R.E. critics, like me, who emphasized the importance of honest, science-based drug education, had actually been heard.
But then I asked Mr. Pegueros about marijuana, and why it was dropped from the curriculum, and that’s when I got the real scoop.
Actually, it was not officially dropped. Instead, not wanting to pique students’ interest, the subject of marijuana will be discussed by D.A.R.E. officers only if it is brought up by students themselves. And what will they be told? As for content, one needs only to peruse www.dare.com to see that although the packaging may have evolved, the content has remained the same: marijuana is a very dangerous drug; medical marijuana is a hoax; and big money, rather than compassion and pragmatism, is behind legalization initiatives.
By now it is commonly known that the extreme dangers of marijuana have been exaggerated, and few users become addicted or graduate to hard drug use; roughly 70 percent of the American population supports medical marijuana; and it is public opinion that is driving initiatives and legislation to make medical marijuana available to people who need it.
If D.A.R.E. failed to convince youth a generation ago to “just say no” because its content was unbelievable, no amount of new anti-drug rhetoric will help. Students didn’t believe what they were told 30 years ago, and they’re too smart to believe it now.
And worse, D.A.R.E.’s recycled rhetoric will certainly fail to provide young people with useful information to help them make wise, health-driven decisions about dealing with the myriad of substances available to them today.
So Happy 30th D.A.R.E. Now that you’re approaching middle age, how about trying “just say know” this time around?
Marsha Rosenbaum is the founder of the Safety First drug education project at the Drug Policy Alliance and author of “Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs.”
Tomorrow’s New York Times will feature a full page advertisement from our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance, acknowledging what a remarkable year it has been for cannabis law reform in the United States, and around the world.
Check out the ad here.
Drug policy reform advocates from around the globe will be attending the Drug Policy Alliance‘s 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference this week. The bi-annual conference, co-hosted by NORML and various other drug law reform organizations, will take place from Wednesday, November 2 through Saturday, November 5, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Representatives from NORML and the NORML Women’s Alliance — including NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, NORML Advisory Board Member Rick Steves, California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer, and NWA west coast representative Kyndra Miller — will be speaking at this year’s conference, which will feature over 50 separate panels and round-table discussions.
On Thursday, November 3, conference participants will gather for mass public protest at the Levitt Pavilion in historic MacArthur Park to call for an end to America’s drug criminalization strategies.
Other participants at this year’s conference include DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, and California NAACP director Alice Huffman.
Conference registration and agenda information is available online here.
Click here to register to attend.
If you haven’t, you should soon. Booking your travel a month out will save you money. And you won’t want to miss what former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom have to say at the Opening Plenary!
The rest of the conference program is packed full with trainings, roundtable discussions addressing controversies within the movement, and panels exploring and sharing innovative approaches to reform challenges. Thursday evening you can stand up for justice at the No More Drug War rally at nearby MacArthur Park, hosted by dozens of local California organizations and emceed by KPFK radio personality Lalo Alcaraz.
And the activities and highlights don’t stop there…
Very soon we’ll be announcing three special Mobile Workshops – learning sessions that will take a select group of conference-goers out of the hotel and into the local community.
You’re also invited to host informal Community Meetings of your own during the conference. These meetings are meant to be your opportunity to organize reformers around action plans. They take place in open session rooms in the mornings, evenings and at lunch.
What do these Mobile Workshops and Community Meetings have in common? They’re only available to registered conference attendees – and they’ll be limited by space availability!
So register now…and I’ll see you in Los Angeles!
Drug Policy Alliance
Do you believe the drug war is doing more harm than good? Are you outraged that the US government still won’t recognize the medical benefits of marijuana? Whether you’re an expert on drug policy or a newcomer, your voice should be heard at this year’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference from November 2-6 at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, California.
You’ll join city, state, and federal elected officials, health care professionals, students, grassroots activists, people in recovery as well as active drug users, treatment providers and more — all working to change this country’s drug policies so that they reflect the principles of health, justice, compassion and human rights.
Do you believe an end to marijuana prohibition is possible at a national level, or will it always remain a state-by-state issue? At the ‘State of the Movement: Marijuana Legalization’ spotlight session, results from the most extensive marijuana reform public opinion research ever conducted will be shared. Explore what these results will mean for 2012, and how soon you can expect to see legislative issues like decriminalization and medical marijuana spring up in your state if they haven’t already.
Come learn how to effectively campaign for an end to costly and racist marijuana arrests in the US. In the ‘Marijuana Policing: Targeting Urban Youth’ panel, we’ll dissect the reasons why urban police departments nationwide employ practices such as ‘stop and frisk,’ especially amongst the young and nonwhite population. Permanent drug records, social marginalization, and intense street-level scrutiny will only continue to escalate if we don’t bring an end to the drug war.
Don’t miss your best opportunity to participate in cutting-edge drug policy debates and meet the people who could be your future partners in reform efforts! Register to attend the Reform Conference by September 16th to receive the Early Bird discount and save $100 off conference rates!