Cannabis websites might have prematurely celebrated a small win in the battle against the War on Drugs recently. On Feb. 25, Emily Gray Brosious of Extract reported on an intriguing discussion in the cannabis subreddit /r/trees. Redditors were discussing D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which appeared to be softening its position on cannabis as a supposed "gateway drug."
Marijuana is one of the most common drugs mentioned in the "gateway drug theory," which suggests that experimenting with softer drugs like marijuana leads people to abusing harder drugs like heroin. But current research suggests that cannabis might be an "exit drug" that helps opioid abusers combat addiction. So when Redditors saw that marijuana wasn't mentioned on D.A.R.E.'s list of gateways, they assumed the group had quietly conceded the point.
Not so, according to D.A.R.E. When the group learned of the story, they posted the following statement on their website:
"Some pro-drug websites are promulgating misinformation claiming Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.), one of the largest anti-drug groups in the world, no longer lists marijuana as a so-called 'gateway drug'. The misinformation, attributed to Emily Grey or 'Monterey Bub' depending upon the website referenced, cannot pass without response.
"Had nominal research been conducted by the author(s) substantial reference on the D.A.R.E. website would have been found in support of D.A.R.E.'s position that marijuana is both an illegal and harmful drug to the youth of this nation. The author(s) would have had justification to instead state; D.A.R.E. considers marijuana to be a dangerous drug for youth of the United States and the world!"
For the record, Civilized also considers marijuana a harmful substance for youth. So do pro-legalization political figures such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. But that's not what this story is about. The story is about whether or not D.A.R.E. had changed its position on marijuana being a "gateway drug," and the group's response didn't actually clarify that issue.
D.A.R.E. says it never had a list of 'gateway substances'
So on Feb. 29, we reached out to D.A.R.E. for clarification. But that only made things murkier. Francisco X. Pegueros - President and CEO of D.A.R.E. America - told Civilized, "We've never had a list of gateway substances."
"Our curriculum does start off with substances such as tobacco, marijuana and alcohol. But it's geared more specifically to teaching a good decision model, not so much on the relative harms of various substances," he added. "There's no place in the curriculum where those substances are identified as gateway substances. I don't recall the term 'gateway drugs' ever being used in the curriculum. And that goes back to the original curriculum in 1983."
When asked about the page on D.A.R.E.'s website that defined gateway drugs, Pegueros said it might be a repost from the DEA or another site, but he wasn't sure - except that he was certain it wasn't written by his organization.
"I can't tell you if that was a repost from another organization....I've been involved with D.A.R.E. since 1984. I don't remember the organization ever identifying specific drugs as gateway substances."
So we sent Pegueros a link to the page in question and asked for comment. He hasn't responded, and the page has since become unavailable. But we have a screen capture from the page that was still on their site earlier in the week: