As states across the nation reform their drug laws and policies regarding marijuana, anti-drug organizations are learning to adapt to the change of times. D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), one of the most recognizable anti-drug education organizations in the country, has announced a new program called “keepin’ it REAL” which includes a severe reduction in anti-marijuana discussion.
News of the change first came out in Washington right after the November 6 elections – coinciding with the legalization of marijuana victories in various states, as reported by Reason Magazine [link]. An elementary school resource officer in Kennewick, Washington said the new curriculum, which does not mention marijuana at all, will go into effect this month of December.
One of the biggest drug education organizations since the 1980s, D.A.R.E. has also been one of the most contested drug education organizations, in recent years fighting the claim that the program is ineffectual and perhaps even counter-productive to its mission. In 2003, for example, the Government Accountability Office announced that D.A.R.E. programs actually correlated with increased drug use in some adolescents.
D.A.R.E.’s new curriculum aims to approach age-appropriate subjects, which for fifth and sixth graders means tobacco and alcohol education only. The theory is that most kids at that age have already been exposed to alcohol and tobacco either by their parents and relatives or by mainstream media and entertainment. Discussion of substances such as marijuana and harder drugs is eschewed on the basis that it is too early to introduce these topics to children who may have never heard of them before, and whose interest and curiosity may actually be piqued by including them in the curriculum.
The “Keepin’ it REAL” program, rolled out in 2011, is supposed to be evidence-based, according to D.A.R.E. It allows for children to bring up and discuss the topics associated with marijuana and other drugs, but does not inherently include them. “Keepin’ it REAL” is designed to be interactive, and students will have the opportunity to ask about other substances, D.A.R.E’s website says.
D.A.R.E.’s new program teaches children to apply the information they learn about drugs to decision-making models they may refer to when presented with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs in real life. While direct references to drugs beyond alcohol and tobacco are not mentioned, D.A.R.E. believes the skills the kids learn can be applied to methamphetamines, heroine, crack, cocaine, prescription drugs, and more.