By Christopher Ingraham
Source: Washington Post Wonkblog
“Marijuana candies, sold on the street as ‘Uncle Tweety’s Chewy Flipper’ and ‘Gummy Satans’ are taking the country by storm.” That’s the breathless opening sentence of a news story posted on the Web site of D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), the infamous anti-drug organization that sends police into schools to teach kids about the dangers of drug use.
After I called to inquire about it, D.A.R.E. removed the story immediately without commenting. But it’s been preserved at the Internet Archive, and I’ve screenshotted it in full below. “It is sad that in a country as developed as America, such third world drugs such as marijuana are allowed to exist,” the story’s anonymous author wrote. “Children are being addicted to marijuana. I knew this day would come, when a liberal president allowed a state to legally sell Marijuana Flintstone Vitamins to children.”
“Marijuana. It is one of the most dangerous drugs on Earth,” the author concludes ominously. “For every one joint of marijuana, four teenagers become burdened with pregnancy.”
Shocking, no? The people at D.A.R.E. certainly thought so, enough that they reposted the entire story, titled “Edible Marijuana Candies Kill 9 in Colorado, 12 at Coachella” from topekasnews.com. The only problem is that topekasnews.com is a satire Web site, one of dozens posting fake-but-just-barely-believable stories online. The marijuana story is fake, as are the numbers it cites.
The “author” of the story is one Haywood Bynum III, whose other bylines include “Is It Time For America To Invade The Middle East and Rename It New America,” “German Soccer Team Uses Nazi Super Soldier Serum To Beat Brazil 7-1, Risks Start of World War III” and “Are Women Even People, Really?”
These fake news sites are everywhere, and they’re a pox on the Internet as a whole. D.A.R.E. certainly isn’t the first outlet to be taken in by one. But the calculus becomes different when you’re an organization ostensibly dedicated to educating the public on a given topic. By publishing a satirical piece on the dangers of marijuana, D.A.R.E. risks undermining its message.
The organization’s heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s, when the anti-drug movement was at its most intense. D.A.R.E. focused a lot of its energies on discouraging drug use by kids, but multiple studies have found that the program does “little or nothing to combat drug use,” according to Scientific American. Kids enrolled in the program were just as likely to use drugs as those who weren’t, researchers found in 2009.
A major reason? The most successful anti-drug programs involved sustained interactions between students and adults. But D.A.R.E. never provided this, focusing instead on brief in-school visits by law enforcement officers.
The program has retooled itself in recent years, launching a new curriculum with the name of “Keepin’ It Real.” The new program is more grounded in research on drug abuse prevention, including the studies above. By applying those lessons, the new approach may yield some fruit.
Still, it’s clear the program has lost some influence. Every year since 1988, for instance, the president had proclaimed one day in April to be “National Drug Abuse Resistance Education Day.” But the Obama administration ended that tradition in 2012.
D.A.R.E. still receives funding from the Justice Department, the Department of State and numerous other government agencies and corporations.
For the past month, that funding has been used to spread the message that marijuana is a “third world drug” that causes teen pregnancies and leads to “primal aggression,” and to promote demonstrably false claims about people killed by marijuana edibles.