Good or bad for kids? D.A.R.E removes pot from curriculum

PORTLAND, Ore. - The drug education program D.A.R.E. has made some changes and has removed marijuana from its curriculum.

The decision has spurred strong opinions from both sides of the marijuana debate. Some people say D.A.R.E. was making children think marijuana was as bad as other drugs when they don't think it is. Others say it's a gateway drug that still has dangerous effects, especially on children.

Leslie Miller, an owner of a medical marijuana dispensary, emphasizes pot's benefits. But even she says it's not OK for children.

"It still needs to be treated respectfully as a psychoactive drug," she said.

So what message do kids get from hearing 'medical marijuana?' Or learning about Washington's new law legalizing marijuana for those 21 and older?

"I don't think they're going to get the message any more than they would with alcohol," Miller, the owner of the dispensary, said.

Tom Parker of Lines for Life, an Oregon nonprofit for suicide and substance abuse prevention, worries the new law brings more supply and therefore more underage use. He says prevention through education is the key.

"If marijuana has been taken out of the D.A.R.E. curriculum nationwide, I think it's a gaping hole," he said. "I think they have to talk about it. The idea behind any drug education program should be: know the facts."

Every city and school district differs when it comes to formal drug education for teens. Tigard police say they will use the new D.A.R.E curriculum starting next school year. It has less of a focus on marijuana and more of a focus on life and refusal skills. And it is more similar to the program, G.R.E.A.T., for gang resistance.

A spokesman for a group of Portland dispensaries, said in a statement:

"There is a new opportunity to have a very honest and straightforward conversation with our kids about cannabis after this election and I would prefer to do that with them rather than a law enforcement agent or a book printed from the propagandist at Drug Free America."

But Lines for Life and even some in the medical marijuana industry agree that marijuana can have long-term, negative effects on children's brains.

"Our children need to be given accurate, truthful education on the drugs and on the dangers and benefits," said Miller.

The national D.A.R.E. organization says it didn't change the curriculum because of any legislation. In fact, it changed last year, although some schools are just now implementing it.

KATU News is expecting D.A.R.E. America to send it a formal response with more explanation and description about the change.