D.A.R.E., the national nonprofit that has
promoted "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" to elementary, middle,
and high school students since the early 1980s, will all but drop
anti-drug material from its curriculum for younger students,
according to a state chapter leader. 

"D.A.R.E. America has determined that anti-drug material is not
age-appropriate," the state affiliate leader, who asked not to be
identified, told Reason. "The new curriculum focuses on character
development."

News of a major curriculum change was first reported in early
November when an elementary school resource officer in Kennewick,
Washington
told KNDU25
, "The new curriculum starts as of December for
us…it does not bring up the subject of marijuana at all."
(Marijuana is the only illicit drug that D.A.R.E. claims to have
reduced the use of through its educational programs. Drug reform
advocates have
slammed D.A.R.E. for its characterization of pot
.)

I emailed D.A.R.E. America's headquarters in California on Nov.
6 (the same day Washington legalized recreational marijuana) hoping
to learn more about the alleged curriculum change. I also emailed
the head of the Washington chapter and the head of the regional
chapter. I didn't hear back from any of them. 

Then late last week, a state affiliate contacted me to say that
the Kennewick officer's claim was true. 

I called D.A.R.E. America to confirm. "There's a
one-page document that explains all this," the D.A.R.E. America
staffer told me. He then said, "Are you the guy who emailed about
Washington?" I told him I was. He promised to email me the document
explaining the curriculum change. We hung up. The document never
arrived. 

UPDATE: A third party just sent me the D.A.R.E.
one-pager outlining the curriculum change. Here's what it says
about marijuana: 

Recent press reports regarding the new D.A.R.E. keepin’
it REAL
 (kiR) elementary curriculum not
addressing marijuana are incorrect.

The subject of marijuana is attended to in the new
D.A.R.E. kiR elementary curriculum. The topic,
however, is addressed only after it has been established to be an
age appropriate topic for the individual concerned
classroom. 

A wealth of research data substantiates the two most common and
dangerous drugs with which elementary aged students have knowledge
or familiarity are alcohol and tobacco. These are the substances,
across all segments of the population, with the highest use levels
at this age group. The experience or knowledge of alcohol and
tobacco creates an environment in which it is appropriate to talk
with young students about these drugs.

The D.A.R.E. kiR elementary curriculum
provides information about drugs, focusing on alcohol and tobacco.
Students learn to apply the information, within the constructs of a
decision-making model, and to employ resistance skills in making
safe and responsible decisions about drugs. While we do not focus
individually on all possible drugs which can be abused, we believe
the students can apply the learned decision-making model and
developed resistance skills to other substances such as
methamphetamine, prescriptions drugs, cocaine/crack, heroine,
etc. 

For the general population of
5th/6th grade students, the topic of
marijuana is not age appropriate. Most students in this age group
have no basis of reference to the substance. Research has found
that teaching children about drugs with which they have never heard
of or have no real life understanding may stimulate their
interest or curiosity about the substance.

The curriculum change is likely part of an ongoing attempt by
the organization to restore its credibiliy with the scientific
community. In 1999, the American Psychological Association
conducted a study of D.A.R.E. graduates and concluded that its
curriculum was ineffective. The Office of the Surgeon General made
the same pronouncement in 2001, and the Government Accountability
Office announced in 2003
that D.A.R.E. programming had actually correlated
with increased drug use among some adolescents.
As a result of these reports, D.A.R.E. America's revenue declined
from $10 million in 2002, to $3.7 million in 2010 (the last year
for which the organization's 990 records are publicly available)
causing D.A.R.E. America  to rack up million-dollar
operational deficits in 2010 and 2009. To reverse this trend,
D.A.R.E. America unveiled Keepin' it Real in 2011. The program was
developed by researchers at Penn State, and is, according to
D.A.R.E., evidence-based. 

D.A.R.E. America's difficulties aren't limited to promoting its
new curriculum, however. The group is also being sued–by D.A.R.E.
New Jersey.

According to a lawsuit filed in L.A., and first
reported by Courthouse News
, D.A.R.E. New Jersey is suing
D.A.R.E. America for "put[ting] thousands of New Jersey school
children at risk by revoking the state affiliate's charter, because
it used its own drug abuse prevention program in elementary
schools."

"D.A.R.E. America claims that D.A.R.E. New Jersey implemented
the 'Too Good For Drugs' program surreptitiously, even though
D.A.R.E. New Jersey has attempted to correspond with D.A.R.E.
America about the program since 2011 and, in 2012, discussed the
option in person with [nonparties] D.A.R.E. America's President and
CEO Charlie Parsons and D.A.R.E. America's Executive Director,
Frank Pegerous," the complaint reads.

The suit goes on to say that the decision "flies in the face of
the unparalleled success of D.A.R.E. New Jersey and its commitment
to drug abuse prevention education for hundreds of thousands of New
Jersey school children and thousands of school administrators,
teachers, and police officers who are united in the fight against
drug abuse. It also is inconsistent with the management across the
country because, virtually none of the programs affiliated with
D.A.R.E. America exclusively offer D.A.R.E. Programs."

D.A.R.E. New Jersey isn't just any old D.A.R.E. outfit, however.
According to 990 forms, The New Jersey group's revenue was $20
million in 2010, and $21.3 million in 2011. That makes it one of
the few nonprofit affiliates in the country–possibly the only
one–that has a budget five times the size of its national
organization. 

Kevin Sabet, currently of the University of Florida and formerly
of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says "It is clear
that DARE is moving in the right direction — learning from its
past challenges and recognizing the need to integrate
evidence-based principles in its work. It started down this path
more than ten years ago when it brought together the country's top
scientists — and indeed its harshest scientific critics — to
begin to change its curriculum. For this reason, it should be
encouraged, not bamboozled by folks who never liked DARE to begin
with. DARE remains the most popular drug education program in the
history of drug education. Fixing it is a good thing."