Re-Approaching Drug Education: Curriculum Rooted in Reality

By Genevieve Shifke | January 5, 2012

While we’ve come a long way from the ridiculous 1930’s Reefer Madness film, our current approach to drug, or rather anti-drug, education could still use quite a bit of work, especially when it comes to marijuana.

What happens when all those horrible things we learned about in health class don’t happen? Or what if, heaven forbid, we like doing these horrible drugs?

Most of the people in our generation have grown up with anti-drug propaganda campaigns, most notably D.A.R.E. and Above the Influence. While I’m sure the intent behind the billboards, posters, commercials, and other PSAs are noble in theory, they have more often than not been proven to be unsuccessful in preventing drug use among teens and young adults, and some have actually had the counter effect of inadvertently making the youth want to smoke more.

There are two main issues at work here: 1) false information, and 2) a lack of well-rounded education.

Beginning with the first, anti-marijuana commercials are wrought with exaggerations that just don’t measure up to how the majority of drug users live their lives. Many ads show hopelessly lost teens losing friends, hurting families, committing crime, or getting into or putting others in immediate danger. Others promote the theory that if someone smokes pot, he or she will go on to use harder drugs. Yes, there is going to be the occasional pot smoker that does stupid things, but as it turns out, we’re a nation that is home to quite a lot of pot smokers, most of whom are not terrible people.

According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, just over 3 million people under the age of 18 tried marijuana for the first time in 2011, which averages out to about 8,400 per day. Each year marijuana use increases nationwide. In 2007, a reported 14.4 million Americans aged 12+ were current (having smoked in the past month) users; in 2011 there were 18.1 million current users. This is an illegal drug we’re talking about, yet 18.1 million people admitted to using it, and that figure is likely to have increased by now since a year has passed when the data was last collected and the growth rate in the number of users is increasing annually. With this many people using marijuana, and using it regularly, it’s a little far fetched to say you’re wasting your life away by smoking. Especially since teens aren’t the only ones with upward trending data; drug use by people in their fifties has steadily risen by about 3.5 million people over the past 10 years, too.

As the numbers show, more and more people try the drug everyday, most users being between the age of 16 and 25. A big issue can arise when someone smokes, gets stoned, and realizes it’s really not as bad as he or she was told. You come to a crossroad; authority figures you’re supposed to look up to continue to bash marijuana use while a lot of your fellow youth culture is much more liberal about it. Not everyone will face these moral dilemmas, but having been in a college atmosphere in California, a state where medical use is legalized and therefore access to the drug is a lot easier, I’ve found that a lot do call such morals into question, especially those who were abstinent before going to college and trying it for the first time.

All three of the past Presidents of the United States have admitted to trying marijuana. Looks like President Obama is doing okay for someone who at one point smoked pot.

The second issue ties right into the first; preaching abstinence does not solve the problem. This can be likened to teaching safe sex vs. “just say no”: those who want to have sex are still going to have it, so it is better to prepare them against STDs or unwanted pregnancies than not give them useful information and force them to commit acts unsafely in secret. The same mentality should be applied for marijuana use.

Anti-marijuana propaganda billboard in Oregon.

If schools were to start teaching safe ways to use marijuana (i.e. “don’t dope and drive” if they wanted to use something catchy—I should probably get the rights to that…), they would be unwittingly admitting that even though it is outlawed in 96% of this country for recreational use, enough people use it to garner a good deal of attention. That is a major issue, but so is the one-sided education platform currently in place. Simply stated: it is a waste of government money and is not working. In fact, after multiple studies proving its ineffectiveness, D.A.R.E. has removed marijuana from its curriculum. Instead of throwing in the towel, though, I think it would be more effective to alter the platform and move toward an informational rather than an inflammatory approach.

Marijuana is undoubtedly a mind altering drug, and I can understand the reasons for prohibition, but the fact of the matter is that people still use it, and education efforts cannot continue to ignore that. While I do not condone using it, the youth should be informed of the negative consequences to using the drug in a realistic manner, and informed on how to best avoid such consequences if they do choose to partake in the illicit activity.

Unfortunately, a huge problem that faces better education is the illicit nature of the substance. Alcohol is legal in the United States, even though it is a mind-altering drug that is easily arguably more dangerous than marijuana. Due to this legality, education efforts have a lot more wiggle room. The “don’t drink and drive” campaign, for example, has been proven successful in reducing the amount of alcohol related driving accidents and deaths among the youth.

I will wait patiently for the day to come when I turn on the TV and see a bunch of kids hitting a bong, sitting on a couch nodding to music, and talking about life when one gets up and decides to drive to the gas station to get food. His friend will say, “Woah, man, we just blazed, we shouldn’t drive,” and the first guy will say, “Dude, you’re so right! Lets just walk.” They will laugh and the screen will fade to black, text will come on reading: “Friends don’t let friends dope and drive.” Bob Marley music will fade out with the background.

I don’t think that day will come soon, but one can dream. Now that two states have ratified marijuana legalization amendments, it will be interesting to see if education efforts are able to widen their scope and include “safe smoking” attitudes instead of solely abstinence based slants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *