Marijuana is in the news a lot these days, and it seems to be undergoing a social and cultural transformation. With more states legalizing medical marijuana, and now in unprecedented moves, two states completely decriminalizing it, pot has become a mainstay of public discourse. What has not changed is the fact that this is a drug, it is illegal according to federal law, and you probably do not want your kids using it. So how do you discuss marijuana with your children in light of the news, the public debate, and the changing societal attitudes towards it?
If you are a supporter of the legalization of marijuana, whether for recreation, medical use, or both, talking to your kids about this may be especially challenging. And if you are using marijuana yourself, maybe for the treatment of a medical condition, or even for recreation, you run the risk of sounding hypocritical if you tell them to “just say no.” Living in either Washington or Colorado means that if you are over 21, you can light up, and legally that should be no different than having a beer with dinner or a cocktail before bed. Your kids may not see it that way, however, and it is up to you to start the discussion and to direct it the way that you see fit.
Seeing a drug transition from an illegal, fine-carrying substance that can lead to jail time for possession and use, to a legally and controlled recreational substance is unusual for you and for your kids. It is a unique event that we rarely experience in the US. Perhaps our grandparents, who remember prohibition and its repeal, can describe what this is like. The recent events, however strange they may be, present a teachable moment and a great opportunity for you to talk about marijuana, as well as alcohol and other drugs, with your kids.
A good place to start the discussion is with some education about marijuana. Perhaps you can start a family research project to learn about where it comes from, what the cannabis plant is, its place in history, and how the chemical substances in it affect the human body. You can cite studies that have demonstrated the way smoking or consuming cannabis makes people feel and the negative repercussions it can have. Many comparisons may be made to alcohol, as both are mind-altering substances that are used widely for recreational purposes. This would be a good reason to also learn more about alcohol and how it affects the user.
It is important to keep the discussion and the education at age-appropriate levels. For very young children, the details can wait until they are old enough to understand the concepts. For older children and teens, armed with a better understanding of what marijuana is, you can begin a discussion about pot’s legality in certain places and for certain reasons. You may want to introduce the fact that legality does not necessarily make something right or good for you. Stress the fact that both alcohol and marijuana, where it is legal, are controlled for a reason. There are age limits and limits on driving and operating machinery for reasons of health and safety.
Another important issue to bring up is addiction. Your children should understand what addiction is and how it affects the lives of drug abusers and those around them. Although the addictiveness of marijuana is low compared to other substances, it is still possible. Furthermore, discuss the fact that trying marijuana may lead some people to use more dangerous and more addictive drugs. And, although marijuana may not be highly addictive, it can become a habit and wind up replacing more important hobbies and activities.
If you use marijuana recreationally, deciding to do so in front of your children is a personal choice. It may be possible that modeling responsible use will have a positive effect on them. However, this has been shown to backfire as well. Researchers from the University of Washington demonstrated that using this technique with alcohol does not always work and that stating and upholding family rules with respect to alcohol and marijuana are more effective.
Most importantly, talking about marijuana and the current issues surrounding the drug is something that you must do in the way that best suits your children. Perhaps they are too young to hear or understand any of the debate. Maybe they are very mature and prepared to have an adult discussion about it. Choose the timing and manner of your talk as best fits your family.