As America moves toward legalizing marijuana, what is to become of anti-drug programs like D.A.R.E., designed to keep kids from starting drugs in the first place?
My daughter, a fifth-grader living in West Georgia, just completed her D.A.R.E. program. The kids did a song, read aloud essays about staying drug-free, and performed a skit. At that graduation ceremony, we learned that our region’s kids are still getting an anti-marijuana lesson.
“Even though marijuana has been legalized in California, and California is where our headquarters is, we decided to leave marijuana in our antidrug education,” said Officer Natalie McKinley, a local police officer, to the audience of kids and parents.
She noted that the program began back in 1983 in Los Angeles by Police Chief Darryl Gates, to keep schools and streets safe. But the decision to take marijuana out of the drug education program occurred nearly 30 years later.
The decision to lecture about the ill effects of marijuana is not a popular one these days. National legalization of marijuana is seen as inevitable by 75 percent of Americans in a recent poll. An anti-drug bastion like Alabama is open to marijuana for medicinal purposes. Even conservative publications like The National Review are jumping on board the legalization of marijuana bandwagon.
D.A.R.E.’s programs have been accused of being ineffective. A PBS study cited the shortcomings of the program, having little or no effect on deterring drug behavior, or boosting self-esteem.
“Evaluations have found that positive effects on students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior (often observed right after the program) fade over time,” write Sarah Birkeland, Erin Murphy-Graham, and Carol Weiss in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning. “By late adolescence,” the authors add, “students exposed and not exposed to the program are indistinguishable.”
Yet there remains a need for some sort of drug education. Forbes Magazine’s Elizabeth Lopatto wrote that marijuana use by teen students was the same between states that legalized the drug and those that did not. But how the teen students were getting access to the drug was disturbing.
“Only 6 percent had their own prescription [for marijuana for medicinal purposes]” Lopatto wrote. “About a third acquired marijuana using someone else’s prescription – precisely what worries some legislators.”
Whether schools and politicians keep D.A.R.E. around (D.A.R.E. evidently made some changes involving more interaction and role-playing games for kids, according to the PBS article), it may be that some sort of anti-drug education is necessary. Even if you support drug legalization, it’s got to be disturbing that underage kids are getting access to illicit materials with fraud. And a D.A.R.E. program that keeps marijuana as part of the drug curriculum could work in something about how wrong it is to use the drugs on someone else’s medical prescription.