What Do You Tell Kids When Pot Is Suddenly Legal?

In Colorado, schools and parents wrestle with changes in marijuana laws.

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

On New Year’s Day, the New York Times’s Jack Healy tweeted a tender family portrait of a father and son who had trekked all the way from Georgia to Colorado (sleeping in their van!) to be among the first legal par-tokers of marijuana now that recreational use of the drug is permitted there. I showed the tweet to my son Jake, who was home from college for the holidays, and his immediate response was to ask my husband Doug why the two of them hadn’t taken such a road trip.

It’s been 77 years since pot was last legal in the US of A, which means no parent I know has experience in explaining to his or her offspring why one day a drug is illegal and sure to lead to a lifetime of penurious depravity and the next is okay for one and all. For those of us who came of age during the War on Drugs, it’s … well, weird to contemplate sharing a bowl with the kids. (Remember that “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs” fried-egg ad? Yeah.) It’s not so much that I think marijuana is the devil’s weed. It’s that buying your kid his first legal drink, which I recently did with Jake (he opted for a martini, and regretted it), is strange enough. Stephen Pasierb, president of the Partnership at Drugfree.org, recently told Fox News that conversations between parents and kids about drugs have become “extraordinarily complicated” in the wake of changing marijuana laws.


In Colorado, a recent report on Denver’s 9News.com looked at how schools are approaching the subject. “Students, when they hear something was legalized, I think they may have a propensity to think that now it’s acceptable,” Westminster High School principal Mike Lynch says. Adds Chris Harms, director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, “We want students to know that it’s not only illegal, but extremely harmful for them to be using” marijuana, which remains banned for those under 21.

But sensible as that seems, complications can arise. In Oregon, a mom who legally used pot for a medical condition had some explaining to do when her 8-year-old son burst into tears during a classroom discussion on the drug and confessed to school authorities that his mom was a user. The mom, Serra Frank, started a Facebook page, called Moms for Marijuana, to get advice from other users about talking to kids.

There appears to be reason for concern about underage use in Colorado; a 2013 report by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Denver’s Office of Drug Strategy showed that while nationwide, 6.5 percent of eighth-graders have used pot, in Denver 18 percent have.

It seems logical to treat marijuana the way we’ve treated alcohol as a society — stressing that it’s just for adults, talking about smart choices and avoiding smoking and driving. You can be arrested in Colorado for operating a vehicle with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Cops can pull you over if they suspect you’re impaired; they’re getting special training. Chris Harms wants a campaign warning parents not to smoke around kids even if the parents are using it legally.

Lynch says that even before legalization, schools were seeing marijuana use rise. Teachers and staff are trained to look for classic signs that kids have been smoking pot, but the principal says the fact they may be ingesting it instead of smoking it — sales of marijuana-laced food are also legal now — makes detection harder: “That’s a game changer.”

The legal pot market in Washington State is expected to be up and running come June; legalization efforts are under way in other states including Alaska, Oregon and California. With medical use of marijuana already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, the wave of the future seems pretty clear. For a lot of boomers, pot use has always been a sort of joke — ha-ha, look who’s high! But that joke looks different when it’s your kid lighting up, the same way a martini does when your son drinks it. This is uncharted territory. It makes me wish I could ask my grandmother, God rest her, what she told her seven kids when Prohibition got repealed back in 1933.

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  • Dan P

    Tell them that it is for adults only, just like alcohol. Pretty simple. As far as why one drug is okay while others aren’t, you already had to do it with alcohol, so why would it be difficult for pot? “Honey, some drugs are illegal because they are very dangerous, and can even kill you. Alcohol and marijuana are legal because most people can use them responsibly and they aren’t as dangerous”

  • Steve9099

    If we weren’t lying to our kids the whole time, there wouldn’t be a need to say anything. Instead, we have useless programs like D.A.R.E. that have been proven by research to be completely ineffective. These programs make such ridiculous claims that when kids are finally introduced to these drugs, they don’t trust adults anymore because they feel like they have been lied to. Obviously, there are risks associated to any type of psychoactive drug use. Parents do have a responsibility to talk to their kids, but they need to be given the facts, not b/s scare tactics.

  • sibongile

    The data quoted in this report is an inaccurate representation of what the Office Of Drug Strategy Report states. The 6.5% US prevalence rate of marijuana use is from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and is for people ages 12 and above (meaning the entire population). This is not the prevalence rate for 8th graders. The source that this paragraph is pulled from is incorrect. Please check on sources before reprinting inaccurate information that is misleading.

  • Smári

    why would you even think it is relevant to tell them that?.. they shouldn’t smoke until they’re 18 either way…

  • Charles Waller

    You tell them the truth – Prohibition is a lie, based on racist propaganda to protect vested interests for which cannabis was an insurmountable competitor. You tell them “drugs” are synthetic chemical compounds which often have serious adverse side effects, a high risk for addiction and potential for fatal overdose. Cannabis is a beneficial plant used safely by humankind for 10,000 years before unconstitutional prohibition deprived people of their unalienable human rights to cultivate, possess and consume a plant which has never killed a single human being in recorded history.

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    What message are we sending our children when it is easier for them to obtain marijuana now with it being illegal than it is for them to buy alcohol?

    It doesn’t take the intellect of a genius to understand that stores card kids for I.D.. Thugs and gang members do not. They also push the real hard drugs on children. Stores do not.

    Marijuana legalization will make it harder for children to obtain it.

    What message does it send our children when the President of The United States himself alongside a long list of successful people openly admit regular pot use at one time or another in their lives?

    While we tell our kids how it will ruin their futures, and then ensure so, by allowing our government to to jail our children and give them permanent criminal records when they get caught with a little Marijuana? Especially if they are the wrong skin color or from the “wrong neighborhood”. Which in turn, ruins their chances of employment for life.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana is the wrong message to send our children while we advertise and promote the much more dangerous use of alcohol like it’s an all American pastime.

    The worst thing about marijuana and our children is what happens to them when they get caught up in the criminal justice system due to it’s prohibition.

    Protect Our Children and Our Neighborhoods Through The Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana Nationwide!

    • Linda

      young people will always look for and find ways around laws and rules, it’s what they do. to talk about it within the family, making them aware of the risks involved, is a way of educating them. I use weed for a medical condition and chronic pain. It doesn’t mean I have to encourage others to use it too. Those who smoke or drink do so by choice. making weed legal may take the thrill of smoking it in secret away. Weed is not the problem, hard drugs are.

  • MN Mom

    Here’s what happened to us. Sent our MN raised kid to Colorado College this past fall (I don’t believe he smoked pot in high school and he is only 18 years old), and while he was home for winter break we inadvertently found out that he had become a heavy user of marijuana and had spent over $7,000 dollars (which was suppose to be in an investment fund and was a gift from deceased grandparents) on drugs and drug paraphernalia. Kids under 21 in Colorado absolutely have easier access to drugs and much should be done to protect these vulnerable kids who do not have a fully developed frontal lobe and lack the ability to make sound decisions. Good luck parents and please talk to your kids about drug use. Even though I did this I was still not successful. Their perception of this drug is that it can’t harm them and that it is not addictive, both facts that are untrue.

    • Dan P

      Seems like your kid is just an idiot, perhaps you should have spent less time worrying about whether or not he’d smoke pot and more time teaching about the value of money.

      • MN Mom

        Thought I did that too insisted he have a job. He worked at a hardware store from junior year up until he left for college on weekends and during the summer months. We insisted he have his own checking account and manage his own pay checks and spend his money wisely. He did overdraft once, but learned after that. I just don’t think these kids can make good decisions when it comes to drugs. Oh did I mention he graduated with a 3.8 and ACT scores in the 30;s

        • Dan P

          Sounds like he was used by his friends for his money, in that case. That’s a shame, but the same thing would have happened with alcohol as well.