On Parenting: Giving Kids the Straight Dope on Legal Pot

How will conversations with our kids about drugs change in the wake of I-502? Tell us in the comments section.

Okay, let’s talk about pot. Let’s talk about it amongst ourselves, as adults, so we know what we want to say before the kids start asking questions.

After I-1183 passed, bringing liquor into grocery stores, I talked about the impact of having more alcohol our kids’ world than before. I believed (and still believe) that it is unimportant if they see it on a shelf or not. It is the parent’s attitude toward, and use of, the substance that will have the biggest impact on the child’s attitude and use of the substance.

But I drink, so I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on arguing for prohibition.

I don’t smoke pot. I have before, but all it does is make me hungry and sleepy. And as a fat lazy person, I don’t need any extra help in those two areas.

Given that, I have much more believability were I to decry marijuana legalization. Yet, I was personally thrilled that it passed. (And please remember, before you write your comment, I don’t smoke pot. You’d be able to tell. I’d be 300 pounds if I did.)

But I don’t want to talk about the law. For me, it seemed a step toward liberty and personal responsibility. For others, it was another brick lost in the wall of civilization. We can agree to disagree. The question is what impact legalization will have on our conversations with our kids.

Here seems to be gist of the cries of those parents who lost. What will we say to our children? And how will we tell them not to use pot if it’s not illegal? And especially, how will we have those conversations without sounding like hypocrites if we’ve ever used it before?

My response?

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I will say she can't use marijuana until she's 21, just like alcohol, because that's the law. I will tell her I hope she never uses it, because it makes you fat and lazy, and she is neither. I will tell her how I know that it does, which is because I've used it before.

I don't see the problem.

I drink. And I have absolutely no problem telling my daughter that she cannot. It’s not optional. She’s not 21. Now, I will tell her additionally that using marijuana, like drinking alcohol, is a decision for adults. Which she is not.

And how will I influence her choice once she turns 21? The same way I would have influenced her choice the first time she came in contact with it when it was illegal. By talking to her.

And if you think you had more say in your kid's decision than that before I-502 passed, you are wrong. Your words and their minds are all you have.

If you really believe that pot is a gateway drug, that it’s so much more potent than it was in the 60s, that it really is physically addictive and all the evidence to the contrary is a lie, then tell your child that. 

Be ready for them to ask why pot didn’t destroy the lives of the many famous and accomplished people who have acknowledged past use. If you used, be ready for them to ask why it didn’t destroy you. Be careful. Kids are smart. They see through lies.

Be truthful. Be direct. Tell them what you think and what you believe. Tell them your honest experience. Show them Uncle Bill, who still lives in their grandparents' basement at the age of 35. Tell them why, instead of hinting about it like you might have done before.

True, you won’t have a stick of fear to beat them with (unless it’s the fear of weighing 300 pounds). You won’t have the law “on your side.” You just have the 18 to 21 years you had to teach them how to make good choices.

Tell your kids your values. And live them. They are the only real weapons you have in the war on drugs, whether the substance in question is legal or not.


For more coverage on I-502 and marijuana legalization in Washington state, click here. To read the full text of the initiative, follow this link.

dan November 16, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Well said by a young mother who hasn't raised a teenager, had her teenager influenced by friends of her child's, whose parents are not as responsible, perhaps aren't even in the picture to provide parenting. As a grandfather of 13, a father of 6, I have been in the business of "my family" for nearly 41 years now. The world has changed. We humans went from being the nuclear family, to the hip family, to the do it if it feels good family, to semi-family, to diverse family, to letting our schools raise our kids - and I could go on and on. But you get the idea. No one raises a child alone, it is true, it does take a village. But the villages of choice aren't all that great anymore. Its not easy. And talking to your kids is great, but they are hearing other voices besides yours when the time comes to matter. My view is raising kids today is all hands on deck. Sun up to Sun up. 24/7. That doesn't mean control. it means love and care and order. All else and you have an air ball. God bless you parents who are on the white knuckle ride of life with children and young adults today. I worry for you. I worry for your kids.
Wonder November 16, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I told my kids it's a way to keep people broke. Instead of studying and being productive in life, if everyone was high, they obviously wouldn't be worried about getting things done. They'd get fat because of the munchies. They be dirty and stinky and really, kissing a potheads mouth is gross. I'm going to make sure to point out all the crappy, gross things about it. I'm going to point out their great future and how the general public will be high but they could rise above it and get ahead in life. People high on drugs and that's what pot is, whether or not it's suddenly made 'legal' to smoke, are NOT going to be in the BEST position to get ahead in life. People will be trying to fund a pot habit instead of paying their bills and they could be the few who don't do that crap and instead focus on taking healthy care of their bodies finding joys in life and fitness without ever feeling the need to jump on anyone's bandwagon to waste time, money and health by getting high. Sure, you can tout all the benefits but I don't care about them when discussing pot with my kids. I'm going to make it sound like a gross, loser thing to do so they don't even want to get involved with it, just like I did with cigarettes. They can't stand being around smokers and I'll help them determine who to hang out with by the 'move ahead' things their peers are doing and I WILL discourage them from being around anyone who is smoking pot or getting high. Nothing anyone can say will deter me from that!
Tony Bussert November 16, 2012 at 06:22 PM
You kind of contradict yourself in this article. You say, "Be ready for them to ask why pot didn’t destroy the lives of the many famous and accomplished people who have acknowledged past use." "Be careful. Kids are smart. They see through lies. Be truthful." Yet you also say marijuana makes you fat and lazy. How do you reconcile that with the fact that there are plenty of famous and productive people in the world (Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, with 42% of Americans admitting to have used marijuana there's bound to be lots of others)? Personally I'd stick away from the sterotypes and just stick to what they see and hear and tell the truth. Talk about setting goals and things that can get in the way of those goals. Talk about setting a priority for work over fun. Talk about moderation in life. These are the things kids need to know to navigate some of the choices that come to them later as adults or burgeoning adults.
Heidi Pavlich November 16, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I will be pointing out to my daughter how it could damaging her future career. Even though it's legal here, it's not legal in the rest of the U.S. More employers are doing extensive background checks, includes drug tests and questions about any prior use of drugs. If it's not legal in the employer's state, the pot-smoking applicant could easily be disqualified or at least have a stigma to overcome.
Malia Kawaguchi November 16, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Tony - guess i meant to say it makes _me_ fat and lazy. :) Great point about the moderation and priorities. I think you can get in just as much of a tangle using video games or anything else (even reading, as I wince to say it) too much to balance.
Jeanne Gustafson November 16, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I think this is a really good topic for discussion, and thanks Malia, for writing about it. Parents get to decide what they model in their homes. For my family, growing up as the youngest of five children, my parents chose not to keep alcohol in the house or to drink socially, because they wanted to set a good example for us. I think, looking back, this was a good idea with three boys in the house. Did it totally keep us from experimenting as teens? No. But did it give us a solid base for making adult decisions? Yes. If you don't want your kids to use marijuana recreationally as adults, the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is model that in your own behavior. Will teens experiment? Probably. But I think the older we get, the more we come back to the values we grew up with.
Malia Kawaguchi November 16, 2012 at 07:36 PM
True enough. I don't have a teenager yet. I assume once she's a teenager, I won't be the loudest voice in her life. That's why I talk so loudly now. And why I've chosen my village so carefully. Her school, my friends, which of my family she sees... That's the part I control.
Malia Kawaguchi November 16, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Heidi - what an interesting point! I'm still waiting to see what the justice department's stance on the issue will be, but you point out an intriguing conundrum, not just for our kids.
Brent Champaco November 16, 2012 at 08:26 PM
As a parent of a teenager and a 4-year-old, I have to say that parents are naive if we think kids are hearing the main messages about drugs from us. They're hearing it from school, friends, the music they listen to, etc. I think mine and my wife's approach will be even though it's legal, it's still a vice. Just like drinking, smoking, gambling or whatever. Too much of it isn't healthy. I also realize once they're out of the house, the chances of them trying weed in college or in their 20's is extremely high. I just want them to remember this: "Everything in moderation."
Willow Laughs November 16, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I have known several adult smokers who hid their habit from their parents for fear of judgement or doubting their ability to keep their eyeballs from rolling out of sockets should they be subjected to a lecture. Honesty without judgement is the foundation I strive to build my relationship with my child upon. The truth is easy but I think we sometimes assume it isn't easy to explain or we won't have enough answers. But so long as the truth is shared, it's ok to run out of answers because there are those who have come before us an put the answers out there (often within easily reached Internet distance). Fear keeps us safe in many ways. It also keeps us from living fully at times, from being able to be honest other times and at the end of the day, gives a whole lot of power to things we think may harm us, whether or not they actually do.
Willow Laughs November 16, 2012 at 08:54 PM
And by smokers mentioned above, I mean cigarette smokers.
Jeanne Gustafson November 16, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Bravo, Brent, and how did I not know we're in the same boat? I have a 20 year old and an 8 year old. It's when they are 8 that we can influence what they choose in the college years, in my opinion. (Not that it always works out perfectly, but it's a good start).
jdrabe November 16, 2012 at 11:41 PM
just tell them the truth: the government lied about it being harmful for years. it was former president nIxons way of getting at Viet Nam war protesters and Weyrhuasers way of limiting any meaningful competition from another source of pulp fiber for paper making. It was the way police were able to harrass those didn't nessecarily adopts societies standards of the "norm" in the 60's and 70's, it was kept illegal so the big pharma didn't have any competition for their Dr Feel Good pills. It was kept illegal so that certain lawmakers could make fortunes off of it and so others in the government could use illegal drug profits to clandestinely and illegaly provide guns to americas sworn enemies. The sooner we are frank with our kids and know that our system is corrupt and the government lies to us in order to promote special interests and persons, the better they will be a making meaningul choices in life. It might be a good time to rent a copy of "Reefer Madness" and also discuss the roaring 20's during prohibition.
Rawrface November 17, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I think it's time we start legalizing Marijuana everywhere. Stop living in fear and start thinking about how great the future will be! LEGALIZE IT! Why don't we just start legalizing it everywhere? Why are so many people still stuck in this FEAR stage...? Stop worrying, start hoping. LEGALIZE IT! If you live in a state where Marijuana isn't legal yet and still want the same type of highs, I suggest checking out uIntoxicate.com. It has amazingly detailed legal highs reviews and where to get them without getting ripped off! Also! I'm starting up a new forum dedicated to my fellows stoners. Come on over and join the high conversations! We're quite new, but VERY welcoming. CHECK IT: http://uintoxicate.com/ STONER FORUMS: http://www.stonersofthestates.com/forum/
William J. Hirt November 17, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Parents should know that their “recreational use” is not without risk. Dr. Jeanette Norden, is a neuroscientist, Professor of Neurosciences in the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. Her lectures on “Understanding the Brain” are featured in the Teaching Company Great Courses. Her course includes the following information concerning Marijuana affects on the brain: A. Contrary to popular belief, 2/3 of users show drug dependence, with anxiety, anger, and irritability upon withdrawal: drug dependency can also be induced in animals. B. A number of areas in the limbic system have receptors which bind marijuana, or are affected by its use. C. These areas include the prefrontal cortex, VTA, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, and amygdala. D. Effects on the prefrontal cortex may affect judgement and the ability to associate behaviour with consequences, resulting in disinhibition and risky behaviours. It is implicated in a clinical disorder called amotiviational syndrome, which is seen in chronic and long-term users of marijuana. E. The hippocampus also shows a high concentration of receptors that bind marijuana: significant impairment in memory is seen in some long-term users. So much for “fun and games”
Tony Bussert November 17, 2012 at 01:01 AM
LOL! I would wince to include reading myself, having been a kid that read as much as he could and is now married to a librarian.
Tony Bussert November 17, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Great point! One most people fail to consider.
Tony Bussert November 17, 2012 at 01:10 AM
My sentiments exactly. Moderation is key in pretty much everything.
Luis Garcia November 17, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Did you know that Marijuana can boost metabolism which can help loose weight...
dexterjibs November 17, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Of all the lies I have heard about the benefits of smoking weed, that one is a whopper. Do you know smoking marihuana can lead to addiction which can cause depression severe enough commit suicide? But hey, lets legalize it and smoke away.
dexterjibs November 17, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Grea points, WIlliam "Recreational use" is a term that makes me laugh. It is all part of the big lie about marihuana use.
jdrabe November 17, 2012 at 04:56 AM
the same things can be said about coffee, which really is addictive
dexterjibs November 17, 2012 at 06:05 AM
jdrabe, are you really tryingto draw a moral equivalence between marihuana and caffeine? That is quite astonishing. Nice try.
JuneGloom November 17, 2012 at 04:00 PM
"Do you know smoking marihuana can lead to addiction which can cause depression severe enough commit suicide?" The same exact thing can be said for alcohol, yet it is legal. I think pot smokers are tired of being vilified and arrested, at the same time alcohol is readily available. It doesn't make sense to have one drug legal and another illegal.
Joe November 17, 2012 at 06:59 PM
“The question is what impact legalization will have on our conversations with our kids.” Hopefully, parents will approach the topic with their children the same way they talk about bodies and sex: objectively, openly and honestly. In truth, we humans have been altering our consciousness using plants and fermented beverages for eons, from the beginning probably. Children the world over are known to spin themselves dizzy, hold their breaths until light-headed, etc. Animals will go out of their way to intoxicate themselves with catnips and fruits that have started fermenting. The desire to our alter our consciousness, it would seem, is a completely natural desire, like the desire for food and sex. As others have pointed out, moderation is the key to enjoying it safely. If the brain is still forming, as a child’s brain is, then abstinence from consciousness-altering substances is probably best (no coffee, etc).
RED ALERT November 17, 2012 at 08:01 PM
RED ALERT!!! There are NO answers here that will work for every child of every family. Right now I have 2 teenage nieces in rehabs. These girls are from 2-parent, hard working, attentive families. As soon as the medical marijuana shops started springing up the older niece was given access to "edibles" from older kids. It is CHEAP and not detectible as smelling smoke. My nieces are close to straight A students, play in the orchestras, and are anything BUT fat and lazy. Yet, they have outgrown the computer games and found something else. Their "trying" has gone beyond the experimental stage, and it is due to the cheap availability of pot, hash, THC. School suspensions and changes in their behavior are now the result. If these girls are NOT to follow the path of my niece from hubby's side who spiraled into heroin and died from it, action needed to be taken now. Did ANYONE think of the social consequences when they voted to relax these drug laws? The social consequences of "medical" (who are we kidding!!!) marijuana is already apparent, and now the people want even more availability. I don't care if the law or you parents say "21 just like alcohol" the kids will get it and now it easier than ever before. Beware parents! Your kids ARE eating the drugs. The cookies are eaten while out and when they get home there is no evidence in their backpack or handbags. You need to watch any pocket money you have laying around. A mere $5 to $10 is all it takes. Good luck!
dexterjibs November 17, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Oh-oh! You spoke ill of marihuana. Be prepared to be berated by the pot heads that believe marihuana is manna from heaven and cures all your ails and that this law will help all of society.
Ken December 07, 2012 at 06:10 AM
Yes ... it may be legal in the state now but it's still against my employers rules. I work at a drug free company. And I like it!
Brad H. February 05, 2013 at 05:01 PM
"Recreational use" is a term that makes me laugh. It is all part of the big lie about marihuana use" -says the guy with a profile picture of a well-known prescription drug addict smoking a cigar


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