In a statement from their website in February of this year, every 80’s and 90’s kids’ worst lecture nightmare, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is holding firm to their stance on marijuana.

The statement is published as a response to misinformation circulating the internet purporting D.A.R.E. as relaxing rhetoric when referencing marijuana. According to the statement, D.A.R.E. is in firm stance not to change marijuana as being listed as a ‘gateway drug’.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) advises that rather than the ‘gateway drug’ theory, alternative factors such as environment and vulnerability to the availability of common drugs such as cannabis, but also including tobacco and alcohol, are also ‘critical in a person’s risk for drug use¹.

D.A.R.E’s continued stance on marijuana is in stark contrast with overarching public opinion on the drug now legal in 5 states. In a 2015 Gallup Poll published only 2 months prior to D.A.R.E.’s statement, nearly 60% of pollees approved of legal marijuana use. Granted, this was for adult use; D.A.R.E focuses primarily on youth.

Much of D.A.R.E’s concern for marijuana is pitted in selective studies showing an increase in youth marijuana abuse since legalization Jan. 1, 2014. Their further concern is that with a relaxed attitude towards marijuana nationwide, youth use will rise. Basically, if they don’t fear it, they will try it.

Like D.A.R.E’s unchanged 2014 Position Statement on Marijuana, the concerns are outdated and misappropriated according to incorrect science and blind belief in now disproven facts of old.

Seeing Only What They D.A.R.E to See

The studies they base their position off of are completely falsified data. In a statement published on the very same blog portion of D.A.R.E.’s website in January 2016, D.A.R.E. referenced a report published by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA). According to the report4:

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Past Month (Current) Marijuana Use for Colorado Youth Ages 12 to 17 Years Old:

  • In the two year average (2013/2014) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, youth past month marijuana use increased 20 percent compared to the two-year average prior to legalization (2011/2012). Nationally youth past month marijuana use declined 4 percent during the same time.

This is purely incendiary language, and is not statistically accurate. The report referenced was published in December, 2015 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

When researching the SAMHSA findings, it quickly becomes clear the RMHIDTA skewed the data provided for their own view on marijuana. This is far more dangerous to youth than correct, factual information. According to SAMHSA, the two-year average of past month marijuana use for Colorado youth ages 12-17 from 2012/2013 to 2013/2014 (notice these correct date ranges of study times differ from those referenced above) only increase

Studies show marijuana use for adolescents is flat since legalization.

from 11.2% to 12.6%. While this is a slight increase, it is not an increase of 20%, but rather an increase of only 12.5%. Researchers and experts view this change as not statistically significant, and most report teen usage has not changed in the past year.

Furthermore, according to the State of Colorado’s biennial Healthy Kids in Colorado Survey, which takes an in-depth look at the effects of marijuana legalization on youth, teen marijuana use in Colorado actually declined from 22% in 2011 to 20% in 2013. Like the data above, a 2% difference year-to-year may not be statistically significant. When combining with the 2009 data, however, which saw 25% of high school students using marijuana, a general downtrend begins to emerge, suggesting the data may truly be statistically significant. The next Healthy Kids in Colorado Survey is set to publish sometime in the summer of 2016. A further reduction in use by youth in the 2015 survey set to publish would solidify the downtrend.

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D.A.R.E took the word of an organization founded on carrying out large narcotic busts, and are in no way a research entity, as an indication of the position they should take. Allowing a pro-incarceration group such as RMHIDTA to formulate your policies will result in exactly what is occurring; misinformation and needless incendiary language.

Relaxing Rhetoric Proven Not to Increase Use

In their position paper on marijuana published in September 2014, D.A.R.E. expresses the concern that relaxing rhetoric on marijuana would cause less fear of harm from youth. In turn, this decreased perception of harm would then lead to increased underage youth. They furthermore stated that marijuana legalization and subsequent availability is only harming Colorado youth, and has no positive impact. Going on to say marijuana legalization would ‘cost society in real dollars’.²

D.A.R.E. has not changed or altered its position on marijuana since publishing this Sept., 2014 statement.

Once again, D.A.R.E.’s position is outdated and unfounded. Two recent stories positively profile the effects on Colorado youth since marijuana legalization. The first, from USA Today, exposes a new college scholarship program funded by recreational tax revenue in Pueblo County. The fund provides high-school aged students (12-17, a major demographic of concern for D.A.R.E.) $1000 in scholarships to go to college. Secondly, from the LA Times, Governor John Hickenlooper is profiled as a once-skeptic that now touts the legal marijuana industry in his state.

Increased nor decreased perceived risk of marijuana use had any effect on youth use. Courtesy: SAMHSA

More importantly, the unchanged D.A.R.E. position is largely based on the assumption that relaxed attitudes and rhetoric towards marijuana would lead to increased youth use. An exhaustive, 24-year study on adolescents (ages 13-18) published in The Lancet Psychiatry in July 2015 concluded that the legalization of marijuana unequivocally does not increase the risk of youth abuse.³ These findings were corroborated by SAMHSA in December 2015, the very same Federal agency referenced in the findings from RMHIDTA, above.

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Drug Abuse Resistance Education was formulated to inform youth on the dangers of underage drug use. Our children are receiving the same outdated information we received back when we were children. If D.A.R.E. continues to ignore science and instead reference complete falsehoods, they will ultimately be the ones responsible for the fear mongering and hate that breeds underage use.

References

1. Is marijuana a gateway drug?. National Institute on Drug Abuse 2016. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug. Accessed May 23, 2016.

2. (2016). Dare.org. Available at: http://www.dare.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/D.A.R.E.-America-Position-Paper-on-Marijuana-Legalization.pdf Retrieved 24 May 2016.

3. Hasin, D., Wall, M., Keyes, K., Cerdá, M., Schulenberg, J., & O’Malley, P. et al. (2015). Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(7), 601-608. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(15)00217-5

4. Impact of Marijuana Upon Colorado Youth – D.A.R.E. America. (2016). D.A.R.E. America. Retrieved 24 May 2016, from http://www.dare.org/impact-of-marijuana-upon-colorado-youth/