Two decades after Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) was declared dead, it and similar drug- and alcohol-prevention programs are back in Colorado classrooms, the Denver Post reports. The finger-wagging, “Just Say No” messaging that turned DARE into a policy pariah is absent from the curriculum, which tries to persuade a generation of kids whose parents may legally consume marijuana or be struggling with prescription-drug abuse to stay clean. The task is more difficult in Colorado because marijuana use is legal for anyone 21 or older. This has drug-prevention programs — including DARE — focused on the health and life consequences of abusing controlled substances.
“I’m a realist. We do know there are medicinal properties in marijuana and kids will likely be exposed to its use,” said Kennedy Sabelko of the Denver Public Schools. “We need to meet kids where they are at. Just telling kids they can’t do that is not going to work.” Locally, DARE is seen as a relic of the 1980s that never worked. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wanted to bring the program, originated by the Los Angeles Police Department, back to prominence in the nation’s schools, critics scoffed. “The DARE brand is toxic,” said Andrew Freedman, former director of Marijuana Coordination for the State of Colorado. He leads the Youth Marijuana Prevention Council, a drug-abuse prevention group. DARE proponents say critics are behind the times. DARE has evolved to correct past mistakes. The program now is more aligned with scientific and social realities and is taking on new challenges such as the opioid crisis, said Richard Clayton, a retired substance-abuse researcher with the University of Kentucky.