By Sam Ervin & Margaret Magnus
“I bullied them into funding it,” said Agnes Baron of her efforts to get funding from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to start the Drug Abuse Reorientation Training (DART) program.
“Meher Baba said a whole generation of leadership would be lost if they continued to get caught up in illicit drugs, so I told the board of supervisors they would be responsible if they did not do something to show they were serious about offering young people a non-punitive approach to dealing with drug problems,” she said.
“I embarrassed them for not having done anything about the problem, so they shut me up by funding the DART Program with $20,000 to get it started,” she recalled.
Agnes Baron was inspired by Avatar Meher Baba’s admonitions in the 1960s regarding the dangers of drugs when many were touting drugs as “consciousness-raising,” as a short cut to spirituality, and even as a means to “cosmic consciousness” or God-realization.
GOD IN A PILL?
In 1966, the pamphlet God in a Pill: Meher Baba on L.S.D. and the High Roads was published by Sufism Reoriented. The booklet contained a compilation of Meher Baba’s comments on the risks of drug use in contrast to true spirituality.
He said illicit drugs like marijuana and LSD were harmful mentally, physically and spiritually, and that unless youth in the West were convinced to give up such drugs, a generation of future leaders would be lost. Meher Baba said,
“In an age when individual liberty is prized above all achievements, the fast-increasing number of drug addicts forms an appalling chain of self-sought bondage! Even as these drugs hold out an invitation to a fleeting sense of ecstasy, freedom or escape, they enslave the individual in greater binding.”
At that time also, LSD and other drugs were considered by some as a means to heightened spiritual experiences. Meher Baba said in response:
“If God can be found through the medium of any drug, God is not worthy of being God.”
AGNES BARON IS INSPIRED BY MEHER BABA’S CALL TO ACTION
Some young people, including Dr. Allan Y. Cohen, Rick Chapman and Robert Dreyfuss, were directed by Meher Baba to spread the word about the dangers of such drugs in the U.S.
Meher Baba is quoted in a letter written by His secretary Adi K. Irani to one of Meher Baba's followers, Ivy Duce:
“…Baba wishes Robert Dreyfuss, Allan Cohen, Rick Chapman and others, who have stopped taking LSD and such drugs, to be his apostles in this particular field and to give lectures on college campuses and speak in social gatherings and meetings, quoting passages from God Speaks and other Baba-literature on the experiences of the spiritual planes, and reading excerpts from letters from Baba to Dr. Richard Alpert and Allan Cohen in which beloved Baba is emphatically against the use of LSD and ganja [marijuana], and suchlike drugs and smokes.
“Meher Baba wants these ‘Baba-boys’ further to submit articles in newspapers against the use of these drugs as based on information from Avatar Meher Baba and from his writings in the Discourses, God Speaks, and so forth. Baba says that this is the best opportunity for Baba-boys to do his work in the States and, at the same time, to be of help to their fellow-beings in America. Their speeches and articles should be illuminating so as to turn the minds of the addicts and guide them to a proper understanding. Baba wishes his boys particularly to tell the students to read God Speaks in which even the experiences of the planes of consciousness are only another kind of an illusion.”
AGNES ARRANGES FOR DR. ALLAN COHEN TO SPEAK IN VENTURA
Dr. Cohen, who was then on the Student Counseling Center staff at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke dozens of times at universities and public events as well as on radio and television.
On a trip to Southern California in 1969, he spent an entire day on Tuesday, December 9 at Ventura High School. Dr. Cohen addressed the students in the morning and the people responsible for drug abuse education in the afternoon and evening.
These sessions were arranged by Agnes, who was billed as a former coordinator in the War on Poverty, along with Mrs. Elsie Carr and Gordon Dahlberg of the county probation office, Mrs. Ruth Kennedy of the county Superintendent of Schools Department, and Bill Miloy of the county health department. 
“How Agnes convinced me to do a whole day and night gig is remarkable. I did some 300 events that year,” Dr. Cohen remembered.
Agnes and Dr. Cohen spent quite a bit of time discussing drug abuse among youth. “Agnes was very strong about the issue and was not ready to give up on the addicted youth. Needless to say she earned great respect with the community agency folks,” he recalled.
She became convinced that she might be able to make a local contribution to Meher Baba’s direction to help get young people off drugs.
Agnes studied several programs in other areas, and found one in Burbank, CA, that seemed to work well. She based the DART program on that and presented it to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
On July 21 1970, Agnes and Betty Elder, asked the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for temporary financial help without any governmental strings attached. The temporary help was until the group could obtain federal or foundation grants.
“The program should not be involved with too much officialdom,” said Baron. “We feel that we must be freewheeling and not have strings attached.” According to the news report, they were asking for an initial $17,000 from the county for a program budgeted at $79,000. 
Agnes told the supervisors that DART talks to both parents and children separately, “By the time they get together each one is willing to take the first step.”
“We don’t know why or what, but we have stumbled on a technique,” Baron said. “We’re going to go on because it is needed,” whether the county supplies money or not, she said.
The supervisors warned that any government money meant strings attached and referred the program to the County Drug Abuse Education Committee for review and recommendation.
FUNDING APPROVED FOR DART
On August 31, 1970, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a contract to provide DART with $20,000 for an initial six months, contingent upon the program’s being incorporated as a nonprofit.
They stipulated the program was to accept at least 25 and a maximum of 75 referrals of youth who had been arrested for drug abuse. The program conducted its sessions in five high schools in different areas of Ventura County.
“The Supervisors were impressed with our passion, as well as with the educational basis of the proposed DART program,” Agnes said later.
THE DART PROGRAM OBJECTIVES
The primary objective of the DART program was to seek out causes and explore cures and alternatives for drug users. Agnes felt that teens turned to drugs because of a lack of trust within the family. “When you close the gap between the youth and parent and get each to admit to half the blame, the cure is on its way,” she said.
“Just as important as the family relationship, is the school where the youth spends most of his day,” she added. “Extensive programs, recognizing parent-youth participation, should be a must in all schools.”
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) psychologist Dr. Jane Carlisle from the Counseling & Psychological Services center evaluated DART as having two main goals. She was a graduate student at the time who volunteered with DART, attending and observing the program several times.
Dr. Carlisle said the first objective was establishing trust and opening discussion between parents and children. Thus, DART required both child and parent to attend meetings, enabling the group to do what most service agencies are not able to do said Ms. Carlisle.
The second objective was encouraging a coordinated community effort with families, schools, and service agencies working together.
The participants were parents and their sons or daughters who had been arrested for drugs. They participated in a round table discussion with other families, former users of various kinds of drugs, physicians, doctors, law enforcement officers and psychologists, all facilitated by a group leader.
During the counseling, law enforcement gave the facts of the law infringement, the doctors described various types of drugs and their effects, and the ex-users factually told of their experiences with drugs.
"I thought DART was a very good program," remembered Dr. Carlisle. "I was extremely impressed with the enthusiasm of the young people as well as the passion and professionalism of the people organizing it."
DART was considered as a model for other drug abuse programs. For instance, in November 1970, the Ventura County Council on Drug Abuse, a non-sectarian group involving churches and their communities, held a program exploring drug abuse problems in the Conejo and Simi Valleys in Ventura County. On the program were Agnes and Betty Elder describing DART as a semi-preventive alternative to court involvement.
AGNES DRAFTS YOUNG FOLLOWERS OF MEHER BABA TO ASSIST
Agnes and Betty engaged some college students and others who had experiences with drugs, including young followers of Meher Baba, to act as counselors in the sessions with youth. They were paid $5.00 per hour for the time they spent in the sessions.
Sam Ervin said, “My wife, Martha Ervin (now Martha Aubin), and I were students at UCSB and friends of Agnes Baron when Agnes started the DART Program. We were also former psychedelic drug users who had stopped because of Meher Baba’s cautions.
"Agnes asked us and a few of our friends in a similar situation to act as counselors by meeting with the youth in the DART program and sharing our experiences. She also involved former users of heroin and other drugs in the panel of ‘counselors.’ Martha and I would drive from Santa Barbara to one of the five Ventura County high schools where DART convened and share our experiences and answer questions, encouraging the young people to avoid illicit drugs.”
The program was well received by both its young participants and their parents. Agnes and the DART program received favorable testimonials saying the program especially improved positive communication between parents and their children.
“For the first time since our son became involved in drugs, we are finding some answers to a problem that was beyond our realm of reason,” wrote one parent.
A mother who participated in the program with her daughter said DART was better than the formal court system. “They [the court system] acted and treated us as though we were just A-No. 1 criminals. And it just crushed our household,” she said.
The DART program continued for two full years until 1972. Agnes said that some of the young people who participated kept in touch with her for years afterward and expressed their appreciation for what they received.
After DART, Agnes Baron continued exploring avenues for preventing and treating drug abuse, and informally supported and encouraged many young people to avoid illicit drug use, in keeping with Meher Baba’s admonitions.
 God in a Pill: Meher Baba on L.S.D. and the High Roads (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, Inc. 1966), pp. 1-2
 God in Pill, ibid., back cover.
 Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher: The Biography of the Avatar of the Age Meher Baba, Online Edition, pg. 5241, accessed July 22, 2016.
 “Former Drug User Schedules Day-Long Ventura Conference," The Press-Courier (Oxnard, CA) December 8, 1969, pg. 13.
 Allan Cohen, e-mail message to authors, July 18, 2016.
 “No-String Drug Funds Asked,” Star-Free Press (Ventura County, CA), July 22, 1970, Oxnard, California), pg. 13.
 "No-String Drug Funds," ibid.
 "No-String Drug Funds," ibid.
 “Contract To Help Drug Addicts OK’d,” The Press Courier (Oxnard, California), September 1, 1970, pg. 1.
 The DART program took place in Oxnard, Ventura, Simi Valley, Santa Paula and Ojai.
 Rick Nielsen, “DART Takes Aim at Area Drug Problem,” The Press Courier (Oxnard, California), September 27, 1971, pg. 13.
 Nielsen, ibid.
 Nielsen, ibid.
 Nielsen, ibid.
 Jane Carlisle, telephone interview with Sam Ervin, July 27, 2016.
 Marjorie Scott, “Council Probes Drug Abuse in Simi, Conejo Valleys,” Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), November 20, 1970, pg 30.
 Nielsen, op.cit.
 Nielsen, op.cit.