Despite the growing spread of legal cannabis from state to state, talking about it still retains some old stigmas. It can be challenging for parents to talk with their kids about marijuana. Old stereotypes from “Reefer Madness” to “Woodstock” can cloud the discussion. One parent, who also works in the cannabis industry, is making a bold New Year’s resolution for 2022: she will tell her kids (ages 10 and 12) that she uses cannabis.
Her kids know how cannabis helped their grandmother’s multiple sclerosis (M.S.) and how it helped get their grandfather through his cancer treatments. Short of treating serious, observable ailments, stigma and shame can rear their ugly heads.
Forty years ago, the common wisdom on drugs was more superficial – almost binary. A sizzling egg was “your brain on drugs,” and the slogan was “Just Say No.” Unfortunately, the devastating effects of the so-called “War On Drugs” and the fallacy of treating addiction as a crime instead of a health care issue weren’t apparent at the time.
In 1996, California legalized medical marijuana. In 2021, eighteen states have legalized cannabis. More Americans live near legalized marijuana than don’t. More than 300,000 Americans are employed by the cannabis industry – more than those employed as electrical engineers, dentists, or paramedics. Still, the conversation remains daunting.
According to Professor Matt Reid of Cabrini University, claims of cannabis normalization are overstated. In the Journal of Cannabis Research, Reid differentiates between “normification” and normalization. Normification is when the stigmatized attempt to pass as normal and assimilate into society. Normalization is when a once-stigmatized identity becomes acceptable or even celebrated by society. America appears to be stuck between normification and normalization.
If you are a parent who takes hits from the bong every blue moon, don’t wait until your kids “catch you in the act” to begin the conversation about marijuana. It’ll be difficult to escape the shame of (perceived) judgment. If you’re explaining or justifying after the fact, you’re facing an uphill battle.
Don’t hesitate to consult with a therapist for guidance, terminology, and techniques to tailor the conversation for your child’s age. And, like talking about sex or death, children need different information at different ages. In most cases, it’s best to keep answers simple and direct.
Like driving a car, having sex, or drinking alcohol, you can explain that cannabis is for adults. Emphasize that young brains need to develop fully before including cannabis. For the tricky question, “Are drugs bad?” the answer is that drugs are neutral. People’s decisions around when and how to use them can be harmful. If the child is old enough, you can enter into a conversation about the causes of addiction. And indeed, bubble bum-flavored cold medicine, antibiotic creams for boo-boos, and Pepto for tummy aches are all medicines that aren’t “bad.”
If your kid asks about your cannabis use, you should be honest. Explain how it relieves pain or anxiety. It’s a tightrope, to be sure. You want to avoid a “yes” that seems to grant permission for them to use marijuana right now, and you want to stay away from a “no” that may spark feelings of shame or mistrust.
It’s more likely that something mom or dad does is automatically uncool and passé. If your conversation can thread the needle and avoid seeming overly permissive or strict and demonizing, you’ll be taking the first step toward healthy normalization.