DARE: Failing American Youth And Taxpayers For Thirty Years


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.”





33 thoughts

  1. Continuing to support one of the true “Gateways:” if you lie to them and they know it, they won’t believe you when they’re not.

    Haven’t these people heard about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?”

  2. 40 years old i was lucky enough not to have to hear this stuff in school,didn’t start smoking cannabis until i was 18 and out of school:) now i have 4 kids a job that i never have to worry about losing and a house note.I guess am one of the bad evil pot heads i always hear about killing and raping people after getting high O_O dam am an outcast in society!!!

  3. Yep,the ole DARE program.I remember WELL in Jr high school when the FWPD (Fort Wayne Police Dept) officers would come andattempt to ”scare us straight”It was SO ridiculous,because we were all smoking pot,yet not ONE of us (or anybody we had ever heard of) had jumped off a rooftop…and since we KNEW THEY WERE LYING about marijuana, we knew we were on our own about evaluating other drugs we were exposed to…

  4. The only change D.A.R.E was successful at was the change it has caused on the parents. It brought fear to them from their brain washed children.
    Many families were victims from the D.A.R.E. programs. (The Children of the Corn syndrome that were caused by D.A.R.E.)

  5. After visiting the D.A.R.E. web page about marijuana and reading what they have to say about marijuana it demonstrates the organization functions as an organ of the federal government, towing the official line of the CSA. If it’s on the books as a controlled substance, D.A.R.E. will put forth the negative aspects, true or false, exaggerated or not.

    I’m again taken aback, surprised, to find out that I’m supposed to be big money promoting legalization, which I take issue with. Here I am on one of the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, stuck in a shitty dead-end job toiling away while people around me are raking in the bucks left and right. They’re the ones who because they make so much more money than I do think that gives them the right to tell everybody how they can live their lives even if they aren’t hurting anyone, tell them which drug to use to relax or celebrate with: alcohol. There are a few wealthy backers I know of. Thank you, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Soros, Mr. Branson, and everybody else I’ve neglected to mention who donates big.

    This part of D.A.R.E. has truly been a waste of money. In stating that they wait until a student brings it up D.A.R.E. admits they were piquing interest, making a situation worse by piquing young people’s curiosity, leading to more kids using pot than if they hadn’t brought it up?

    The spokesman just admitted the failure of marijuana prohibition.

    You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

    Looks like D.A.R.E. is fooling fewer and fewer people.

    D.A.R.E. will change its tune when the feds change the page of music they’re all looking off of.

    What will the legalization page look like, you know, so they’re looking off the same sheet of music?

    Think Colorado!

    “The Rocky Mountain Way is better than the way we had.”

    Rocky Mountain Way


    Joe Walsh

  6. This reminds me of an incident that happened back in the 1990s. My brother was a teacher’s aid at a junior high school at that time, and he told me that during an assembly in the gym, they had an anti-drug speaker. Don’t recall if he was part of the DARE program or not. But after he finished his speech, he asked the kids? “What do we say to drugs?” And they hollered back in unison, “Just say yes!”

    My brother said their loud reply left the guy shocked and the principal angry.

    Those junior high kids are all adults now.

  7. Only thing DARE taught me (taken 3 times 5th grade 6th grade 9th grade) was what kind of drugs I wanted to try.

  8. The lies that the government tells for the sake of public health and safety! The moral sacrifices they make for us, the citizens! From DARE, to how safe vaccines are, to 9/11 esp NIST’s explanation of tower 7’s demolition, to how freedom-hating the Taliban are, to WMDs in Iraq, to how necessary the Patriot Act is, to how noble the israeli occupation is, back to cannabis having no medical use! The lies continue and the truth suppressed.

  9. The wheels are finally coming off that massive false propaganda campaign.

    The war on drugs is really a war on citizens. It’s been massively expensive, and it’s effects are far worse on society than drugs ever were.

    We should return to the liberty that our great grandparents had. Every drug should be legal; the DEA should be disbanded; and Nixon should be exhumed, burned, and his ashes thrown into a swift river.

  10. There could be some potential usefulness in having uniformed personnel talking to students about danger…like firefighters teaching kids about stop-drop-and-roll, escape ladders, and using labels applied to windows to notify personnel that a child resides there.

    But I wonder, of all the things that police personnel have to speak to kids about during an assembly, why don’t they plead with the kids to learn conflict resolution and not kill each other? Why not encourage them to stay in school or stop bullying or report it. Instead, there’s a scripted presentation that serves to induce fear and make unfounded claims about “drugs” and prophecy that those who try drugs at all will ruin their lives, turning into invalids or prisoners.

    What is the academic (school) response to this discussion? Do they allow these officers to attempt to “scare kids straight,” without also allowing for dialogue and discussion about the speaker’s message? Is it an exercise in critical thinking to question the claims made, or any claims made by other people? I don’t remember it that way at all during my youth. The showed films from the mold of Reefer Madness, drug-war propaganda. Not that they must learn to think for themselves instead of assuming that “authority” in a uniform have as their highest priority, considering the best interests of the children, by being forthright and discussing matters that could impact their safety or well-being, or how to prevent being victimized.

    So drug education in the US has been as worthless as sex education in the US (which is not the same thing as abstinence education). DARE isn’t real (or useful) education about intoxicants or they would include alcohol, tobacco, pharma, inhalants, in every presentation. Instead of talking about intoxicants, toxicity and potential dangers, they present a so-called “reality” about drugs, those only found on the CSA list. DARE would be more useful if they just said “don’t ever try or start using tobacco cigarettes because they’re more addictive than heroin and will eventually kill you.”

    Sadly, sex education in the US is just as pathetic as drug education. Abstinence only is not practical, is essentially the same technique that DARE uses.

    Don’t do it kids! That’s all we have to say! Be good, not bad. Say no! Don’t do it! You’ll ruin your life! blah blah As if this sort of irresponsible, easy and comfortable (lazy and ignorant) approach to education solves any problems or empowers people. “Just don’t do it, it’s that easy and if you don’t obey these rules, you’re a “loser.” As if they wash their hands of the matter afterwards and all the consequences of poor decisions will have been earned, because remember, the “man” stood in front of your class! He warned you in advance that they are merciless and smug in their enforcement of an arbitrary prohibition that does more harm than good and is not a crime at all, anyway.

  11. All I remember is that I was a N.E.R.D (never ever rely on drugs) an that worked out so well for me haha.

  12. I confronted a couple of DARE members outside the grocery store I regularly use. They were passing out their propaganda and trying to speak to everyone about the dangers of drugs. I told them I’ve used marijuana for about the last 40 years and that everything in their pamphlets regarding marijuana was total crap. Of course they were very surprised and tried to debate me on the subject. To make a long story short, after debating them for about 15 minutes, I was able to get them to agree that marijuana is really not that bad, it is only because it leads to harder drugs… Yeah right…

  13. Now Gateway Gil is taking his cues from Kevin Sabet and the likes of David Frum, who think they can hoodwink old white voters with their ‘evidence-based, public health’ approach, where they claim don’t want to jail users, yet still want cannabis to remain illegal. In a talk at the National Press Club this week, GG was so proud to announce new funding for his beloved drug courts.

    So, we don’t want to jail people with addiction disease, but if you use, you have it whether it’s your first time or ten-thousandth time, and we will offer you treatment instead of jail. And the judge, who isn’t a doctor, but *is* highly biased against those who appear before him by nature of his paycheck and the attendant consistency bias foisted upon him through ignorance, availability bias and fealty to his boss, will be sure to throw sick people in jail, while shaming the healthy into admitting a disease they don’t have.

    And GG talked at length about removing the stigma of addiction. Yet his ‘treatment’ budget increase amounts to forcing shame on some and jail on the truly sick, while telling an unsuspecting voter class that this is the ‘new’ approach. I also noted the absence of any discussion that addiction ryes havent changed one iota in 40 years, and no discussion whatever about any study, government or otherwise, that shows the reality that cannabis is less harmful tuan many leal substances. Same old nonsense, in different packaging.

    These people haters are absolutely disgusting. They lie to kids via brainwashed cops (who generally speaking aren’t the most educated people to start with), who come in to a school and try to pass it off on kids who have full access to the same godammned bank of studies and information everyone else does. And yet our government pretends it’s not so. And they wonder why they aren’t getting through to kids. They wonder why the poor and people of color hate te police and refuse to help them solve even serious, violent crimes.

    But it doesnt stop there. We have a Senate who ignores the will of 90% of the public and fails to pass gun control (terrified, no doubt, that NRA gun lovers will attack them), an ONDCP budget that still focuses 2/3 of its budget on the criminals Nixon codified into law, and meanwhile deranged killers figure out ways to inflict mass suffering and death on us all with regularity.

    Some former narc accused me of not thinking the implications of legalization through. I’m pretty sure he was a moron.

  14. DARE has always been the police propaganda machine placed into the schools to help children learn to become narcs. How many families were destroyed by DARE’s good intentions?

  15. The DARE program is just not against marijuana. Its the other drugs we need to teach our children to stay away from. Crack, Heroin, Meth, and Cocaine do the damage.

  16. the roots says somethang to the affect i puish the dope the man he push the medicine I have been marginilized by the power that be long enough it is high time to stand up for some harm reduction.

    cuz our black president, went to private university, not a private prison, which regardless of race and self created inequities, is no place to leave a child left behind=aint much funny when when provide no alternatives for any kind of war

    rehabz not prisons
    jobz knott jailz
    mizzou and beyond…www.reverbnation.com/melayela

  17. Of all of the drugs that are targets of the DEA, by the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is a single drug that is relatively harmless, in fact is medicine to most people, except those who have never tried it or don’t have conditions that many agree are ameliorated, helped or relieved through cannabis use. It is a palliative, not a curative, that was what we thought years ago. Cannabis then, helped with illnesses but don’t cure them. Until they started finding that cannabis has anti-cancer properties and could help prevent Alheizer’s dementia, and that cannabis is effective in relieving chronic and neuropathic pain, this, without harsh or even measurable side effects.

    I would think that DARE removed cannabis from their scripted presentations because it has become <> to claim that cannabis is more harmful or kills brain cells, and so on.

    But what about the other targets of the Controlled Substances Act (Nixon’s ongoing drug war), besides cannabis, meth, heroin, cocaine-crack, and so on. Those are the really dangerous drugs that the DEA and DARE should focus on.

    In actually pharmaceuticals that are taken as directed, or taken in accidental or intentional overdose, kill more people per year than do CSA targets heroin, crack, meth, and so on.

    So why focus on cannabis at all? And are the pharmaceutical deaths not more urgent in understanding and controlling based on numbers? If you realize that, then think about how many people die from each year (and miserably so) from legal drugs like cigarettes. Why is there an inversion of priorities here and what drugs are legal or illegal? Invisible money interests and influence on the legislature that decides what is “legal” and “illegal” even if they stamp “illegal” on a non-crime like cannabis use.

    Oddly, if they went against commercial, legal pharmaceuticals, who kill more than all the targets of the drug war (the CSA list) which nonsensical. Why would law enforcement pursue so-called “legal” businesses selling drugs who bribe the FDA to approve their pharma drugs and who is made up of members of the pharma industry themselves?

    Celebrate 4/20 regardless of the transparent corruption and trillion dollar wasted drug war, now over 20 million arrests for cannabis related offenses.

    Sometimes you just have to laugh at the sad stupidity

    Happy 4/20

  18. The obvious reason why cannabis can be a gateway drug to more dangerous drugs is that it is illegal. It is the same for the illegal drugs seller whether he sells cannabis or heroin: it is a crime and he will be in prison for life so he will sell both. Kids will be introduced to opiates or PCP or meth through their cannabis supplier. For the kids trying heroin can’t be as bad as what DARE told them it would be. After all, DARE teaches that marijuana is really harmful too, but just one puff makes me happy and I can function normally, even better than before. DARE lied to me. Let me try heroin…and down the alley goes Johnny…

  19. They shouldn’t be letting kids know about hard drugs in the first place but since marijuana legalization is right around the corner we should be letting them know about cigarettes and alcohol if anything and that marijuana is a safe alternative if they choose to smoke when they turn 21 even though we all know its starting to skyrocket through high schools and colleges and there is no preventing that

  20. Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system.” — P. J. O’Rourke

  21. D.irty A.ss R.epublican E.thics.

    DARE, these pieces of shit are the reason marijuana can be used as a “gateway” drug by other evil people. How can you do good by shooting yourself in the foot everytime you open your mouth and lie about pot? Lets see, we either get kids the hate DARE for lying to them or we get brainwashed kids that don’t know what they are talking about. Wow, these are great outcomes. Fucking pieces of shit.

  22. Dare is a publishing companies dream. It was the brain child of a souther Cali cop or chief. Reagan was his buddy. Dare was linked through transportation federal funds. Another corporate welfare act. Where I teach. The county declared the kids are ready Know about drugs. As an educator I informed them of the science. Plus. The biggest draw back of pot, a police record.

  23. D.A.R.E made me cry as a child.
    They told me a story where a drug free high school student received a scholarship to college through basketball and was noticed by the NBA. His family through him a party where he smoked a joint and died. How wrong is that?
    The truth hurts sometimes but this lie sure hurt pretty well.

  24. Is the Partnership For A Drug Free America still searching for young advertising models who are good at reading sad stories on the teleprompt?

  25. It’s nuts to think how indoctrinated and brainwashed we’ve become. In the phrase “Partnership for a Drug Free America,” we have been conditioned to know that “Drug” in that phrase means targets of the Drug War, the Controlled Substances Act, not all the other drugs.

    They should change the name to be fair and more clear, “Partnership for a Drug Free, Alcohol Free, Tobacco Free, Pharma Free America.”

    Otherwise they sound like they are just against certain politicized and demonized substances in the CSA, instead of being concerned about the general welfare regarding all substances, especially the ones that are “legal” but far more harmful than cannabis.

    And what would things be like if they had their way and attained their group’s mission (according to title). If they did away with all drugs, would they be heroes or just people who intrude on other people’s lives out of puritanical self-righteousness or a facade of concern while keeping the lower classes down and creating more problems than they “solve” or pretend to.

    Would it be appropriate to also include pharmaceuticals? Yes because they kill more people every year when taken as directed, or taken in overdose, accidental or intentional, than all the CSA drugs. And the CSA drugs are scheduled in a manner that is completely and dishonestly arbitrary and not science based, most especially they lie about cannabis, relatively safe and hugely valuable cannabis, so why just be arbitrary and indignantly ignorant about all the drugs?

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