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America’s War on Drugs is slowly coming to an end, but our ability to talk about cannabis is just beginning. To do my part, I’ve made a 2022 New Year’s Resolution: Tell my kids, ages 10 and 12, that I use cannabis.
You would think it would be easy, considering I work in the industry. My kids have grown up knowing cannabis is a medicine, hearing stories about how it helped with Grandpa’s M.S., and how it got Grandma through the worst of her cancer treatments. So why am I struggling to admit that it helps me, too?
Related: How (And Why) Weed Can Actually Make You A Better Parent
Times have changed
Looking back, it feels like my parents had it easy. Raising kids in the ’80s and 90’s, the message about drugs was simple: “Just Say No!” Remember the infamous ad by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
To this day, I still remember the egg sizzling and John Roselius’ deadpan voice proclaiming: “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Ten-year-old me certainly had none.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, legalizing medical marijuana for the seriously ill. By 2016, a majority of states had followed suit. Today, more than three-quarters of us live with access to legal pot. More than 321,000 Americans earn their paychecks from the regulated cannabis markets. That is more people than work as dentists, paramedics, or electrical engineers! And yet, despite this, admitting to regular cannabis use can feel more like a confession than a conversation. What’s the deal?
Normalization vs. Normification
“U.S. claims of cannabis normalization may be premature,” according to Professor Matt Reid of Cabrini University. His qualitative review of cannabis stigmas at the twilight of prohibition was recently published in the Journal of Cannabis Research. Reid differentiates between normification, where the stigmatized assimilate into society by attempting to pass as normal, and normalization, where a once-stigmatized identity becomes acceptable or even celebrated by society (Wolfensberger 2011; Goffman 1963). America appears to be stuck somewhere between normification and normalization, in what anthropologists call a period of liminality, from the Latin word līmen, meaning ‘threshold.’
In the Jewish tradition, liminal moments are considered holy. Jews place mezuzot (small boxes containing Biblical texts) on the doorways of their homes, sanctifying the space between the inside and outside. They also light candles at the beginning of holidays as a way of honoring the moment when day meets night, and the profane becomes holy. Perhaps the normalization of cannabis, despite all its awkwardness, also has the potential to be holy.
Without the fear of criminalization or the shame of judgment, more people will feel comfortable exploring cannabis and living better lives. But this will only happen if we step into the abyss and begin having those crucial, yet often uncomfortable, conversations. While no guidebook exists, I have cobbled together some advice that I have picked up along the way. I hope you will find it helpful in preparing to talk to your children about cannabis, as I have in preparing to speak with mine.
Tips on talking cannabis with your kids
- If you are a regular cannabis consumer, don’t wait for your kids to catch you in the act, or even worse, happen upon your stash, to talk cannabis.
- Tailor your conversation to your child’s developmental state, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist for help. Much like talking about sex or even death, kids need different answers at different ages. For younger kids, keep your comments simple and answer their questions directly.
- Explain that much like driving or drinking alcohol, cannabis just isn’t for kids (although we make exceptions for seriously ill children for whom the benefits outweigh the risk). Come prepared with facts, especially when talking to teens. Don’t exaggerate or try to demonize cannabis. Explain the importance of letting our brains develop fully before adding cannabis to the mix.
- Be prepared for tough questions. Here are two that scare me, along with my planned response:
Q: “Aren’t drugs bad?”
A: “Actually, drugs are neutral. It is how and when we use them that makes them good or bad. Some examples: Grownups can have a glass of wine with dinner, but not while driving. Or, pain medicine taken after dental surgery can be a lifesaver, but overuse can lead to addiction.”
Let your kids know that they have you to help them sort out the good use of drugs from harmful use. Fun fact: Ancient Greeks referred to drugs as pharmakon, which could mean both a blessing or a curse, depending on context.
Q: “Do you use cannabis?”
A: “Yes, I do use a variety of cannabis products. When my back hurts, I use cannabis creams to make it feel better. Other times, I eat something with cannabis to relax or help me get out of a bad mood.
Note: This is the question parents dread most. We fear that kids may misinterpret “yes” as granting permission or that saying “no” may lead to feelings of shame and mistrust.
My take: hearing that mom loves her after-work gummies is about as surefire way as any to take the cool out of a drug long considered a rite of passage for teens. So be honest and keep the lines of communication open. Also, consider coupling any disclosure of cannabis use with the reason(s) why you use it. Perhaps it eases chronic pain, improves your mental health, or helps you get into a silly, fun mood after a long day’s work.