Get ready, parents. In January 2018, cannabis will be sold for recreational use in California — and your kids already know it.
So how should parents talk to kids about a drug that is already widely available and now losing the stigma of being illegal, especially now that it has grown increasingly stronger, and thus more risky, over the years?
Not all that differently than they are now, it seems. According to parents and experts interviewed, the key remains to arm yourself with as much information about the drug as you can, be realistic about what you expect, and keep the conversation open-ended.
“We can’t (keep) it from our kids, we just need to educate them and ourselves, and be open and aware of how it affects people,” says Joanna Rosales, a San Francisco resident who’s mentally preparing for the discussion she’ll have with her 11-year-old old daughter. “I would try to focus on obtaining positive things in the future, and how pot could limit those options. I hate the scare tactics of the ’80s about drugs. It never works.”
As is the case with alcohol, you will have to provide proof you’re 21 to buy and use pot. Nonetheless, decriminalization is expected to make it simply easier for teenagers to get their hands on it.
Bruce Cameron, a licensed drug therapist who used to work in for the Federal Bureau of prisons, anticipates that the new legal landscape will create competition between legal sellers and illegal dealers which could make cannabis easier and cheaper to access, even if you are under 21.
“A more prolific black market will be created in middle schools and high schools,” says Cameron, who is now in private practice.
To look at California’s future, it’s useful to see what happened when Colorado voters legalized pot on Jan. 1, 2014. Children’s Hospital Colorado, for example, states on its website that it has seen more cases of children accidentally ingesting marijuana the past couple years and has published a series of precautions for parents who use marijuana, including storage tips and urging parents to talk to kids about the drug.
But parents talking to their kids about drugs is nothing new. So what has changed?
For one thing, marijuana has.
According to LiveScience.com, researchers from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration looked at more than 38,000 illegal samples they seized between 1995 and 2014. They’ve concluded that amount of THC — cannabis’ main psychoactive ingredient — has increased dramatically.
“Since 1995, the level of THC has tripled,” says Matt Polachek, from the Hazelden Betty Ford foundation. “One of the biggest issues now is there’s no regulation of the potency of marijuana.”
He notes that parents should be “really concerned,” because “this is a highly addictive, habit-forming drug.”
Krista Lisdahl, the director of brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, cites numerous studies that show regular cannabis use changes the structure of the teenage brain, especially in the areas of problem solving and memory.
“It’s the absolute worst time (to use cannabis),” she told NPR.
So how do parents manage their kids’ curiosity and use?
“Unless there is a group like Mothers Against High High Schoolers, the existing laws of possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia will likely skyrocket,” Cameron says. “Surely, this will create more drama for schools and increase the numbers of youth in criminal justice proceedings.”
Joe Romano of Concord, says he’s had a number of conversations with his 19-year-old son.
“We have discussed with him the downfalls of excessive pot use (and) the impact it could have on your future if you’re looking to do certain jobs, (like) law enforcement or fire fighting.”
What he and his wife have not done is flat-out said: “don’t do it.”
“We all know that doesn’t work,” Romano says. “We expect that there will be some experimentation and have discussed the whole everything in moderation theory.”
Lance Rogers, an an attorney who works for the cannabis industry, says parents need to understand the law which requires distributors to provide information on the packaging regarding the strength of the marijuana and warning about its effects. The law will also requires it to come in child-resistant packaging.
“It’s not the drug, it’s the person’s relationship with the drug,” he says. “Now it’s legal, so parents need to talk to their kids.”
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