Dominic Holden on D.A.R.E.
Dominic Holden—prominent marijuana reform activist, former head of Hempfest, and the man behind I-75 (which made pot bust the SPD’s lowest law enforcement priority)—gave me the heads-up about Bellevue schools dropping the D.A.R.E. program. I wrote and asked him if he had been exposed to D.A.R.E. as a child, and what advice he might have for parents.
I was in a D.A.R.E. prototype program, which was basically identical: polished police, scary workbooks, and lectures about kid geniuses turning into junkies.
I recall being seated with lots of other kids at the South Shore Middle School gymnasium and a cop telling us that spray paint, pot and crack would all melt our minds. Basically, we were warned that one day we could start innocently breathing paint, then need to get higher. For that we would turn to marijuana. Soon, the pot wouldn’t be enough and we would have to turn to crack. Finally, we would end up as dirt heads spare changing for Kool looseys at the convenience store, which given the neighborhood at Rainier and Henderson was a palpable fate.
One of our assignments was to write an essay (copied from the workbooks) about drugs or make a display board of what all the drugs looked like. Being a creative kid I chose the latter, making a giant display with all these bags pinned to it. One bag was stuffed with oregano and labeled marijuana, another, cornstarch, was cocaine. On and on. Little descriptive cards below each sack listed the drugs' properties. Marijuana: Hallucinogen, addictive, disorienting, blah, blah, blah... It was verbatim from the workbook.
At the time, I wasn't intrigued or repelled by drugs, but I did know that my older brother, 10 years my senior, and all his friends smoked pot. They were in college, had jobs and seemed totally normal—and they all scoffed at cocaine and the people who used it.
By the time I was a teenager I knew the whole "smoke pot and end up a crack addictâ€ť bit was unrealistic. I mean, pot smokers were everywhere and crack heads were, while frightening, few and far between. So I, like most Americans who had been through a student drug program, figured the anti-drug program was completely full of lies. I smoked pot, enjoyed it, and disregarded most of what I had been taught.
In hindsight, I realized that the program I went through just tried to scare the shit out of me, but didn't teach me anything useful.
All my best drug knowledge came from friends and family who gave lessons akin to what we learn from society and public health campaigns about alcohol. Don't take too much, don't drive under the influence, etc.
I wish that they had been honest about pot, because much of what is claimed about hard drugs is true and I wouldn't have disregarded it. I was lucky enough to have sensible people around me to warn me about those. But I fear for kids who go through the D.A.R.E. program and decide that since some of it is crap, it's all crap.
An ideal program would provide science-based information about the harm drugs can do and give young people the information they need to use drugs responsibly once they become adults. We teach kids about safe sex before they have any sex because it helps them make more responsible choices. We as a society should realize that some (or even most) people will use drugs or alcohol. We need to teach young people how to not abuse drugs and alcohol or we only perpetuate the cycles of misinformation, distrust and abuse.
Parents need to be honest: pot can be enjoyable for adults, but it can also be abused, make people lazy, make kids socially stunted, fall behind in school and be boring. Kids need to wait until they are adults to smoke pot. In the meantime, listen to them, share your heartfelt love and concern. And, parents, if you do discover your kid has smoked pot, whatever you do, don't freak out on your kid. It won't help.