Attorney General Jeff Sessions really dislikes drug use. And while drugs are a perfectly sensible thing to dislike, when that personal opinion develops into a policy campaign in the hands of someone in authority, we should all be a little bit concerned.
Sessions has lately been offering fulsome praise for DARE, the anti-drug education program founded in 1983, and making an effort to revive and increase funding for it. Sessions claims that the program “saves lives” and wants it to be a part of his comprehensive strategy of nationwide drug use prevention.
The main problem with this is that there’s not really any evidence that DARE actually did any good at all when it was actively in place. In fact, a study by the National Institute for Health did a comprehensive analysis of the program and pronounced it a complete failure. This is not an isolated study. The Surgeon General’s Office and American Psychological Association both also concluded that the program doesn’t work.
This is not especially surprising for those of us who remember the DARE campaign. There are few things less motivating for teenagers than being told what not to do by a bunch of stuffed-shirt authority figures. People who know how children’s minds work will recognize that heavy-handed, sanctimonious lecturing is generally more likely to motivate opposite behavior. This is confirmed by the Government Accountability Office, which found a correlation between increased drug use and DARE programming.
So why revive a program that never worked? Because Jeff Sessions, like so many crusaders in the War on Drugs, has had his vision clouded by his hatred of drug use and is therefore unable to see any of the deleterious effects of the government’s policies over the last 30 years, This includes not only misguided failures like DARE, but the active harm done by prohibition laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, civil asset forfeiture, and any number of other efforts intended to make America sober again.
As Mark Thornton points out in his book “The Economics of Prohibition,” the War on Drugs has resulted in higher rates of violent crime as well as higher-potency drugs on the street, neither of which are desirable outcomes for anti-drug warriors. Mass incarceration resulting from the War on Drugs breaks up families and imposes high costs on taxpayers, both things conservatives tend to oppose.
But DARE is not itself prohibitionary. What, you may ask, is the harm in educating people? Well, nothing per se. It’s good for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs, including legal ones like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medication. But an official program from the government, paid for by the taxpayers, is prone to misinformation, pushing a political agenda that puts truth on the back burner. The object of the program is not to teach people about drugs, but to stop people from using drugs, and those are very different things. When propaganda replaces unbiased information, are the interests of the public really being served?
Personally, I object to the idea of an official federal government program designed to tell Americans what products they ought to consume and how they ought to live their lives. It seems presumptuous and outside the proper role of government: the protection of life, liberty, and property. But in any case, the state should certainly not continue to fund a program that provably doesn’t work and may possibly do more harm than good. So I would offer my own dare to the attorney general, asking him to step back and look at the current evidence. He may find he’s actually enabling the very behaviors he wants to stop.
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and director of research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.