Columns 2014

Talking to your kids about pot

As the referendum on legalizing marijuana grows closer, there are many discussions that need to happen about the pros and cons of the issue. But the suggestion that having a discussion with your children about legalized pot is unknown territory puzzles me.  I can tell you unequivocally what my parents would have said to me because it would be the same thing they said to me about alcohol. Until I was 21, it was illegal for me to indulge. If I did, then my mother assured me she would send me to Kingdom Come. I wasn’t sure where that was but given the tone of her voice, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go there.

Parents nowadays have more nuanced discussions about these issues with their children and that’s probably a good thing. On the other hand, I wasn’t all that sure that my drinking alcohol before I was twenty-one wouldn’t send my mother to an early grave as she continually threatened. That uncertainty went a long way towards keeping my siblings and me on the straight and narrow until we finally figured out that it was biologically impossible.

Back to the main point, though – what do you say to your children about legalized marijuana? If you’ve had the discussion with them about alcohol, I’d suggest just using the same words while substituting pot for alcohol. In fact, you can cover pot and alcohol all in one grand talk. Both are substances that can be abused. Both are substances that can harm you. Both are substances that are not legal for children to have. And both are (or might become) legal substances that your children will need to know how to handle. Their similarities outweigh their differences except for the violence associated with alcohol that is rarely associated with pot.

As we cope with the resounding failure of the war on drugs and the extensive damage it has done to our society, we need to face the fact that having a talk with your kids about the horrors of pot while holding a glass of wine makes no sense to them. They can see the hypocrisy a mile away. Our war on drugs has resulted in the United States having more of its citizens incarcerated than any other country in the world – and that includes China and Russia. Our prior war on alcohol led to a 13-year period that produced crime families on an unprecedented scale. Neither prohibition actually stopped use of the substance. At some point, common sense must prevail as we enter a fiscal future where our current expenditures on a failed program are no longer viable given the true lack of any evident success.

There are a lot of topics that need to be brought up for discussion over this issue, but how to talk to your kids about it shouldn’t be one of them. If you have the words for a discussion of alcohol, you have the words for a discussion of marijuana. The difference is that it has become considered so wrong to discuss pot in a calm and reasoned manner that a person feels uncomfortable even trying to do it.

We have demonized this drug for too long. We have allowed a bureaucracy in the war on drugs to become addicted to the funds it receives every year. We have become unable to unravel the truth about pot because of the noise of fear created by those who still believe it is somehow a gateway drug to life on the streets. We have become so inundated with half-truths, untruths and truthiness concerning pot that we no longer know what to believe. For so long as we are that confused about the topic, we will never be able to have a logical discussion with our children concerning it.

Most parents have no problem sitting their children down and discussing alcohol use and abuse and the need to wait until they are adults to try it. These same parents usually have no problem offering their grown children wine at the dinner table or a cocktail before the meal is served. Yet they can’t imagine sharing a joint with those same adult children because it just feels wrong. Given the statistics of the damage done by alcohol to society versus the damage done by pot, you’d think it should be the other way around.