Talking to Your Kids About Pot Shouldn’t Be Difficult

You've just got to be honest—even if you support the herb.

We can officially count cannabis as another item on the long list of topics that parents find difficult to discuss with their children, at least according to a recent AP report. As medical marijuana proliferates and legalization gains ground, the toke talk appears to be happening earlier and more often, especially in medical states. That talk is evidently becoming “extraordinarily complicated” in the words of Stephen Pasierb, Partnership at president. But why?

It certainly isn’t the difficulty parents have had in keeping their children off the pot in areas that are lousy with its stink—mainly because there hasn’t been any tangible trouble to begin with. A recent study from the Institute for the Study of Labor indicated that medical cannabis legalization hasn’t increased consumption among teens and may even decrease consumption overall (as did this study and this study). And it’s definitely not lack of first-hand experience: government surveys say that of all Americans aged 35-49, a whopping 53.1 percent have used the herb themselves (versus 49.8 percent in 26-34-year-olds).

What, then, is making talking to kids about weed so hard? To put it simply, it’s getting more difficult for parents to lie (or at least obfuscate the truth) about marijuana and their histories with its use. The cannabis-centered DARE program is a massive failure, public figures are coming out about their usage, and William Randolph Hearst’s decades-old “marihuana” hysteria is finally fading fast from the American psyche. Naturally, not having some kind of credible agency to back up popular propaganda has certainly compounded the problem for parents who would rather give the “pot will make you lazy” speech and wash their hands of their seeds’ desire for illicit consciousness alteration.

But for marijuana advocates, this crumbling of misinformation networks represents a golden opportunity to more objectively educate future generations about the risks and benefits of cannabis use. While this is not an immediate problem for me, as I don’t yet have children, I have gone on record several times as a cannabis proponent and, naturally, will have to explain my views to my children while having the inevitable drug talk. Here is how I’ll handle it:

Truth: The Anti-DARE
When my children ask “Daddy, what is pot?”, I won’t tell them that it’s the devil in green form, here to steal their innocence and zap their ambition. Conversely, I also won’t tell them that cannabis is a cure-all produced by God herself as a gift to us misguided, lowly humans. Instead, as with all things, I will tell them it is somewhere in the between, not to be worshipped or demonized, but to be utilized for the purposes for which it works best. Pain, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, depression—all good reasons to smoke pot, but so too are consciousness expansion, stress relief, inspiration and empathy. Just not all the time.

For Adults Only
Much like NORML, I advocate for marijuana legalization for responsible, adult use. Just as with drinking alcohol, driving a car or operating a power saw (none of which should be done in combination), there are some things best left to the grownups, and pot is one of them. Weed, or good weed, anyway, is undeniably intoxicating, and children aren’t responsible or informed enough to treat it with respect. If they give me any lip, I’ll pull out actual facts, like how cannabinoids can interfere with the massive hormonal, mental and bodily changes that adolescents tend to go through during development. After all, “because I said so” didn’t work on me. Why would it work on my kids?

Not All Use is Responsible
People just as easily ruin their lives with shopping, entertainment and food as with marijuana, and I want my kids to know that. You’ve got your shopaholics, boob tube drones and gluttons to go on the extreme side of those aforementioned vices, just as you’ve got the “pothead” archetype to go along with extreme or detrimental cannabis use. Making the distinction between using marijuana to enhance your life and using marijuana as your life is important, as nothing illustrates responsible use like what’s on either side of the moderation line. While marijuana doesn’t inherently create detrimental or dangerous attitudes in its users, it certainly provides a good scapegoat for the lazy, indifferent underachievers in that set. As such, I will not tolerate laziness, indifference or underachievement from my children, “cannabis-induced” or not.

All Drugs Aren’t Created Equal
It is undeniable at this point: pot, while a drug, is not in the same class as intoxicants like cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin—no matter what the DEA says (or, rather, doesn’t say). First and foremost, I will explain to my kids that THC is non-toxic and has not killed anyone in its 5,000-plus years of human use. Hard drugs, on the flipside, kill people with alarming regularity in addition to addiction and the myriad of health problems that comes with their use. Perhaps I won’t be as blasé as Seth Rogan’s Dad in Knocked Up (“If it grows in the ground, it’s probably OK”), but I can’t imagine telling my kids something too far off depending on their age. I say this simply in the interest of being pragmatic: if my kids are wondering about pot, they’re probably wondering (hopefully to a lesser extent) about all those weird pills and powders.

Owning Up to It
The point I’ve been dreading: telling my kids about my past experiences with cannabis. 80 million Americans have admitted to smoking marijuana, and I certainly am not outside of that massive group (neither are about one-quarter of you reading this by that proportion). I will do this not to sound like the cool Dad, but to illustrate to my kids that I do, indeed, know what I’m talking about. It is, however, important to not overstate your experience, lest you presumably create a drug-addled one-upmanship culture within the home. That’s an awful lot of risk, but the reward would be worth the effort tenfold: Maybe, just maybe, my kids will be honest with me in return. Hey, a guy can hope.