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Does D.A.R.E. Still Think Cannabis is a Gateway Drug? Nobody Knows

February 26, 2016
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On Wednesday night, a Redditor made a discovery: D.A.R.E., the program that teaches school kids to stay far away from substances, seemed to have removed cannabis from its page about gateway drugs (the page appears to have since been removed from the site).

It’s a good find, but we wanted to double-check things first. Did the change happen recently? What was D.A.R.E.’s reasoning? Is the program’s stance on cannabis evolving? Could it really be that the only two substances deemed “gateway drugs” are ones that are federally legal: alcohol and tobacco?

So we gave D.A.R.E. a call. Which confused us even more.

Ron Brogan, a D.A.R.E. America regional director, explained that D.A.R.E. relies heavily on an outside contractor to handle its website. That makes it difficult to know when the change happened — or whether it happened at all. “I suppose it could have come out as part of our new curriculum, ‘Keepin’ It Real,’ and that may be the thought of the scientist that developed that,” he said.

“To be quite honest, I really don’t have an answer.”

Strange changes to D.A.R.E.’s website have happened before. The group raised eyebrows last year when it published a pro-cannabis opinion piece that claimed “children only are being put in more danger when marijuana is kept illegal.” The post stayed up for three days. A few months earlier, D.A.R.E. shared an article with an outlandish claim: “For every one joint of marijuana, four teenagers become burdened with pregnancy.” It turned out the original post was satire, and D.A.R.E. took it down.

Anti-Drug Program D.A.R.E. Mistakenly Reports That "For Every One Joint of Marijuana, Four Teenagers Become Burdened With Pregnancy"

Eventually we gave up on trying to get a clear answer from D.A.R.E. and did some sleuthing ourselves (others didn’t). We looked at cached versions of the gateway drug page going back to 2013. And guess what? Cannabis isn’t on the list anywhere.

D.A.R.E. mentions marijuana only once on the page, in a paragraph about tobacco use: “Tobacco use is associated with alcohol and illicit drug use and is generally the first drug used by young people who enter a sequence of drug use that can include tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs.” D.A.R.E. says it’s a quote from the Department of Education. We found it on a CDC page from 1994, but oh well.

So does D.A.R.E. consider cannabis a gateway drug or not? The sad truth is that it doesn’t matter.

Brogan, a 26-year veteran of the DEA, didn’t mince words: “We are unalterably opposed to marijuana,” he said, “whether for recreational use or medical use. That pretty much sums it up.” He went further, predicting that states that have legalized cannabis “will at some point rethink it.”

Not that D.A.R.E. knows much about rethinking. The program is still up and running — spending hours indoctrinating children across the country — more than a decade after research showed it didn’t actually work.

Lisa Rough contributed reporting to this story.

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