What to tell children about cannabis

We recently published an article that sought to answer the question, “What Message Does Legalization Really Send to Children?” Jodie Emery, Tommy Chong and Gary Johnson were kind enough to give us some answers from their points of view. The next logical question was, “What message should we, as cannabis users, be sending to children?”

The cannabis community, a phrase I usually associate with an activist vibe, must act sensitively regarding the possibility of children being exposed to cannabis. However, what is a parent who needs cannabis for medical use or even for stress to do? Just like drinking alcohol now and then doesn’t make a person a bad parent, so too, parents who use cannabis, for whatever reason, are not automatically bad (though the media tends to go after the stereotype).

Originally, this article was intended to have five different experts provide answers to this question. But one response from Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein, who began her career as a Patrol Officer for the Redondo Beach Police Department in 1983, and now works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) floored us.

Goldstein retired as a Lieutenant Commander after 20 years of service in 2004. Her experiences on the job and a brother who ended up a victim of the Drug War led her to join LEAP, a group that she serves as a board member. She calls drug prohibition in America “fiscally unsound and fundamentally unjust.”

Lieutenant Commander Goldstein’s response was so personal and well written that I couldn’t bring myself to break it up into quoted snippets. Most importantly to me, personally, is that a former law enforcement officer goes far beyond, “Just Say No.” The following is her response in its entirety:

The last few years of marijuana activism has created a new normal. The acceptance of marijuana as efficacious medicine as well as the emerging adult consumption market will force us as parents to have age-appropriate discussions with our children surrounding the issue and access to marijuana.

Clearly, the groundwork for discussion needs to start when they are young. As a parent and now a grandparent, I know that from the moment our children are born that we are creating an environment that reduces the harms to them as they explore their world. As a mom, my discussions with my son started as a toddler in teaching him that there were things that adults can do that children can’t.
I used this concept and the strategy of “harm reduction” to help him assess risks when making decisions. This concept applied to everything from engaging in premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, fights, driving, and tobacco use. The parenting list is endless on what can endanger our children if they don’t have critical and credible information. Clearly I don’t promote or condone drug and alcohol use or abuse for our children, but we have an obligation as good parents to promote open, honest and effective communication to ensure that not just our kids are safe but everyone’s.

What we tell our children is dependent on their age. As a parent, you will bear more responsibility when they are younger. If you are either a patient or consumer, ensure that your marijuana is secured in a child-proof container and that your child is unable to access this container.

But it’s not just simply locking up your marijuana it is also starting to have a lifelong discussion surrounding the benefits and harms of not just marijuana, but all drugs. I suggest that every parent read the Drug Policy Alliance “Safety First” pamphlet that introduces a reality based approach to discussing and reducing the harms of drugs.

But here are a few of my own:

  • As a parent remember that it’s not just your words but your actions. Model responsible behavior and your children will do so as well.
  • Remember that there are things that adults do that are legal that are not age-appropriate for our children.
  • If you don’t talk honestly with your children there will be an information vacuum filled by a peer or someone else that may not have your child’s best interest at heart.
  • Understand the difference between substance use and misuse.
  • Have a safety plan so your child knows that if they are intoxicated or with a friend that is intoxicated that they can call you no questions asked.
  • Never encourage or allow your children to drive while under the influence of an intoxicant or to drive with a friend that is under the influence.
  • [T]here are still harms associated with [marijuana]’s use if our children start experimenting with marijuana, alcohol, tobacco or any other drug at a young age. These harms include the collateral consequences of a drug conviction that can alter the course of a child’s life.

Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Published by P. Aiden Hunt

Aiden Hunt is a creative writer and freelance journalist covering marijuana policy and other related issues. He has been published in print and online by outlets such as The Denver Post (The Cannabist), Marijuana.com, The Hemp Connoisseur Magazine and Cronic Magazine. He is currently focused on literary creative nonfiction.

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