From the Archives: How To Talk to Your Kids About Pot (2004) | Turn 420
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From the Archives: How To Talk to Your Kids About Pot (2004)

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By David Katz

Doris sputtered to her husband, coughing out a huge bluish cloud of Hawaiian X Super Skunk #1 spiked with a touch of Master Kush, which drifted toward what they thought was their locked bedroom door and swirled about the head of their “I can’t sleep” six-year-old. Arthur, an inquisitive, intelligent and, to be honest, somewhat pushy offspring, stared at his parents in disbelief from the foot of the bed, his attention fixed on the gigantic spliff that Mommy was passing to Daddy to “help them sleep.” Unfortunately, Arthur had just attended his first Drug Awareness Day at school, and he had a lot of questions. Luckily, Arthur’s parents had yet to commence the Vulcan Mind Meld, sparing young Arthur many years of future therapy.

“But you said you don’t smoke cigarettes. You said they were bad.”

“That’s right, Arthur, they are bad,” explained Dad. “But this isn’t a cigarette—really.” Doris blanched. “Steve, you’re confusing him.” Arthur’s cute brown eyes narrowed as he gave his parents that intense look he reserved for little league, girls and liars. “I know what it is. It’s a joint! They told us about that at school.”

“Who told you it was a joint?”

“Jack the policeman. He came to our class and showed us a cigarette just like that one!” said Arthur, pointing at the funny-looking “cigarette” with two pointy ends and a big bulge in the middle. “You lied!” he yelled, pointing at his father. Steve looked in desperation at his wife. “Come here, honey,” Doris said softly, as Arthur climbed onto the bed. “Mom and Dad need to talk to you about something.”

Doris and Steve are wrestling with an increasingly common dilemma among parents who smoke pot: just what to tell their young and pre-teen kids about the mighty herb. The nation’s airwaves and cable markets are saturated with carefully crafted, government-sponsored “public service ads” designed to scare, shame, intimidate and coerce kids into not smoking pot. There’s the cheery Investigator, which glamorizes parents who give their kids the third degree, grilling them mercilessly for information about their activities and friends just like, well, cops. In Pick Up, a stoner forgets to pick up his kid brother. Another one, Pool, shows a toddler pushing a raft into a swimming pool, presumably to follow the raft in, while a casual, low-key voiceover intones: “Just tell your parents you weren’t watching her, because you were getting stoned.”

No wonder intelligent parents who want to have a toke or two after a hard day have been looking at various methods of raising kids and having their reefer, too.

Let’s start with something we can all agree on: Kids should not smoke pot. Just as you don’t start the day by handing your six-year-old a tumbler of Jack Daniels and firing up his Camel, parents should not be in the business of getting kids stoned—just ask former Hollywood child-tokers and subsequent rehab-grads Robert Downey Jr. and Drew Barrymore, both of whom were exposed to grass at a tender age by their swinging-’60s parents and the crowds they ran in.

Parents should follow NORML’s (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) guide-lines for responsible marijuana use:

“NORML believes that marijuana smoking is not for kids and should only be used responsibly by adults. As with alcohol consumption, it must never be an excuse for misconduct or other bad behavior. Driving or operating heavy equipment while impaired from marijuana should be prohibited.”

Nonetheless, in the real world, 20 million Americans say they have toked the bone during the past year, and despite findings that reefer reduces sperm count, millions of these proud and unashamed potheads are now raising, or have raised, kids who aren’t one-eyed freaks, Charlie Mansonites or pinheads, thereby refuting the myth that pot causes genetic mutations (at least not the visible kinds, which in America, the land of fleeting images, are the only ones that count). Of course, herb—like alcohol, nicotine and mercury-laden tuna—is another substance that has no place in a woman’s body during pregnancy. However, once the pregnancy is over and the child has finished breast-feeding, many parents return to smoking pot, for all the good reasons: responsible recreation and relaxation.

The New York Times recently reported that in a poll conducted by RoperASW, as many as one in 10 American parents of children under 18—about six million people—said they had smoked herb in the past 12 months. One in 20 parents, or about three million people, said they had smoked in the preceding month. The number of Americans who lit up in the last 15 minutes was unavailable, but considering the reluctance of those still holding jobs, or respected members of highly paid role-model professions—i.e., doctors, lawyers, teachers, talkradio jocks, governors—to admit to being anything other than a pharmaceutical junkie in Ashcroft’s America, one suspects that the number of regular tokers is a lot higher than reported. Life in prison in three-strike states like Texas is less than appealing; then again, it’s not Malaysia, where, if you get caught sucking on a joint, a swift trial is soon followed by death.

But short of that, getting nabbed blowing a doob in front of the children can have grave consequences, chief among them losing your kids.

Frank and Sara are the parents of Jake, a 10-month-old baby who was properly strapped in the back in his car seat when his parents were pulled over by cops in Oregon.

“First of all,” Frank told High Times, “the cop just said, ‘Give me the pot, or we’ll search the car.’ So my wife handed him the baggie! I was flabbergasted.” The cops separated the couple. “There was Good Cop and Psycho Cop. First Psycho Cop wanted to know if there was anyone higher than me. How could there be,” laughed Frank, “since I’d been drinking Scotch, too!” An incorrigible wise-ass, Frank’s flippant comeback—“Pablo Escobar?”—didn’t go over well, either. “Sara was only stoned, but her license had expired, which gave another new wrinkle to the situation. Then I got the Good Cop, while Nut Cop went to work on my wife.”

“It freaked me out,” recalled Sara. “The first thing he said is that they can take our son away for this. Then the cop gave me his card and said I had three days to rat out whoever sold us the pot. But we talked to the ACLU, who told us they were full of shit.”

“We never smoke in the car anymore, ” Frank added ruefully. “We shouldn’t have been smoking and driving in the first place.”

Both the US and Canadian governments use draconian drug laws to hassle groups and individuals who refuse to toe the antipot line, claiming that marijuana use—not to mention political activism—creates unfit parents. Divorced parents have used the marijuana laws to smite their mates, especially in nasty custody battles. Debra Cannistrad, a medical-cannabis user living in the San Joaquin Valley of California, was threatened by an ex-spouse for custody of her 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, two days after holding a vigil for a jailed cannabis researcher. Fortunately for Debra, the father—a deadbeat dad—outpoints Debra for parental malfeasance, but nonetheless, the use of a joint as a loaded gun is an indication of the emergence of a snitch society, a la the late Soviet Union.

Other situations are even more bizarre. A couple in Washington State lost their daughter immediately after birth when hospital workers, without their knowledge or consent, tested both the mother and her newborn girl for cannabis. When both tested positive, doctors blamed minor medical problems with the baby on her mother’s cannabis use and accused her of endangering the child’s life. The baby was isolated and the mother not allowed to breast-feed her. The child was returned to the couple in a week, but they were first made to sign a contract with 13 conditions, including urine-testing, mental-health evaluations and agreeing to allow state inspectors to enter their home anytime they damned well pleased. So much for the Fourth Amendment. Once again, this woman obviously should not have been toking up during any stage of her pregnancy—but does that justify the extreme measures the hospital took?

As kids get older, the dilemma for parents who smoke pot gets even more problematic.

Even in a city as sophisticated and progressive as New York, there is a wide divergence in attitudes and styles among the city’s parents regarding their kids and pot, which one suspects mirrors the nation’s attitude as well.

Tahisa, an urban planner, and her husband are raising a 14-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl in New York’s most fashionably transgressive neighborhood, the East Village. She’s a pioneer, having lived in the EV more than 20 years, arriving long before the neighborhood’s recent resurgence and ultra-gentrification. Many of the tenement apartments, abandoned and trashed in the 1980s, now go for $2,500 a month, and uptown hipsters who once came to Avenue B for cocaine and heroin today travel downtown for gourmet coffee shops, expensive punk jewelry and haute cuisine. It’s now a prime residential neighborhood, attracting middle-class parents with children; its playgrounds and community gardens are packed with kids.

“I smoked when my kids were small, so they always saw us smoking, and all our friends smoke. So we never had to tell them that we smoke; they saw us smoke,” said Tahisa. When their kids started school, they started getting the standard anti-drug diatribes. Tahisa told them it was propaganda. “We told them pot was really good, that birds eat it, and that tobacco is much worse for you. Our biggest concerns were tobacco and glue-sniffing.”

Part of Tahisa’s agenda was to demystify pot. “We didn’t want to make pot seem so deviant that our kids would be attracted to it. We didn’t want to sneak around. If we were going to do this, we shouldn’t have to hide it. If they saw it as just a normal thing, we thought they would probably decide not to do it.”

Amy, a close friend of Tahisa’s, is medical researcher, and with her husband Ron, a media consultant, they have taken a similar tack with their 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. “Pot is so much a part of our lifestyle, the kids take it for granted.” Amy, her husband and their friends have smoked weed for more than 30 years and have no intention of stopping. “When our kids have friends over—especially ones who we don’t know—we go into the bathroom, or up on the roof, to get high. And we certainly don’t buy pot with them around, say if a dealer comes to our home. But after all, this is the East Village.”

At a certain age, when Amy felt her kids were ready, she told them that she and Ron weren’t smoking cigarettes. “Then we went on to say that what we do is okay, but it’s against the law,” said Amy, “and we could go to jail for it if certain people found out.”

You don’t want to see Mommy and Daddy in an orange jumpsuit in chains behind bars, do you? That’s pretty effective. Amy and Ron also explained that not every law is good or just and that what they were doing wasn’t wrong; that some drugs, like medicines, are good, and other drugs, like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, PCP, glue, Ecstasy and acid, are very, very bad. “When they started school,” said Amy, “we told them never to mention that we smoke anything at all. And it’s surprising how well they understand.”

This medical tack is similar to the one used in a forthcoming 2005 children’s book, Just a Plant (justaplant.com) by Ricardo Cortes, an educator and Webmaster of the art-and-culture website magicpropagandamill.com. The book tells the story of a little girl who discovers her parents smoking marijuana. Cortes then follows the efforts of the family to rationally explain to their daughter just what pot is and what it does.

“She goes to a farm, and the farmer talks to her about how it grows, how it has seeds and how it’s used for a lot of different things,” says Cortes. “People use corn for eating, people use marijuana for making canvas, paper, etc. Then there’s a medicinal aspect: How does it affect the body? In the story, she goes to a doctor to find out about it. He tells her patients use it as a medicine; there are many plants used as medicine. The doctor also explains that because it’s a medicine, it’s not something for children.”

Cortes takes care in the book to explain that there are things adults can do that kids can’t: driving a car, having a glass of wine, drinking coffee. Then he deals skillfully with the illegality of pot. “At that point in the story, the child is like, I learned everything there is to know about pot, and it sounds beautiful.’ But if you just stop there, that’s dangerous, because now the little girl goes to school and says, ‘Yeah, my mom smokes pot!”’

In the story, the girl then stumbles upon some kids smoking a joint and tells them she knows what they’re smoking. Then the cops roll up for the last lesson of the story: It’s illegal. Cortes brings in the history of Prohibition and tries to portray the cops as good guys, to an extent, by stressing that there are laws they don’t like enforcing. “The cop says that this is how our country works,” Cortes explains, “and if you want to change a law, there are certain ways to go about it.”

But as Tahisa found, as children get older, social institutions intervene to make changes in a parent’s pot policy. “We stopped smoking for awhile because we could see our kids were being pressured at school. They gave a citywide questionnaire to the kids. We kept our son home from school that day because he told us about it, and it was really like: Rat out your parents and rat out your friends. We didn’t want to put him on the spot by making him have to lie, so we stopped smoking.”

But old habits die hard for parents who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. “My husband still doesn’t smoke pot, but I started again. Because, in the words of Louis Armstrong, it relaxes me,” Tahisa said with a smile.

Other parents take an entirely opposite approach to herb and kids; one of hide and deny. Dennis and his wife Dee are raising twin girls, now 13 years old. Both girls are very bright and go to top-tier public schools on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“I don’t tell them. That’s it,” Dennis laughed, then became serious. “There’re two ways to deal with it. One is how I deal with it when I want to get stoned, which is to go into the bathroom, open the window and lock the door. That kind of works, although one time we were out on Fire Island and I had smoked a joint in the bathroom, and my daughter goes in right afterwards and says, ‘Dad, that incense you burned really stinks!’ She was 11 or 12—they don’t know anything.”

Dennis fears that his daughter will be at a rock concert and somebody will be smoking a joint near her, and, says Dennis, “Her friends will say, ‘Oh, it’s pot!’ And she’s going to say, ‘Oh, no it’s not, it’s incense!’ And she’s going to look like an idiot and figure out that I lied.” Dennis has also gone to extremes to conceal his THC jones by concocting marijuana butter. “The feeling was that smoking is bad for you, so I’ll try a different way of doing this. I thought that if I could get this down, I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom to smoke. I’d go to the refrigerator!” Dennis cooked up a butter recipe he found in High Times, but the project backfired. “We ate the butter, went to a party, had a great time, got really, really stoned—like we were tripping—and then we went out to dinner by ourselves. And we were both super-paranoid, terrified, and we stayed stoned for the next two days.”

The problem with the hide-and-deny method is, what do you tell your children when they inevitably ask? Do you tell them the truth? “They hear in school that marijuana sucks,” says Dennis. “We were on a long drive, and one of my daughters asked my wife if she ever smoked pot. And I’m thinking, ‘What is she going to say? It’s never come out that direct.’ And she said no. Then I’m thinking, ‘What am I gonna say? Yeah?’ Then my daughter said, ‘Dad, and you?’ And I said no, and she said, ‘Good.’ I think it’s a scary thing to be asked, because of what they see on TV and what it means, like breaking the law. They’re brainwashed. And I don’t want them smoking pot, you know? When they’re in college, they can smoke pot. I don’t think they should be smoking pot in junior high school or high school—even if I did!”

That brainwashing is orchestrated straight from the top, at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). ONDCP reports directly to the president, and it serves as a kind of amorphous umbrella organization for all of the precisely calibrated “campaigns” that “target” parents and young people with misleading and disingenuous public-service advertisements. ONDCP coordinates overall drug policy, along with the efforts of other government/business coalitions such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, to keep America scared of marijuana with recent media campaigns like Parents: The Anti-Drug and My Anti-Drug, specifically directed at kids. ONDCP’s Ad Gallery features such gems as Wallet, in which a young teen takes us down to the basement to meet his wasted, long-haired, glassy-eyed older brother, who looks more like a dope addict than a pothead, and who “never did anything at all.”

From the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the creators of Parents: The Anti-Drug (theantidrug.com), comes Slam, a truly vicious commercial teeming with violence and anger, in which a father and his teenage daughter yell and scream with vein-popping animus (“I hate you!”), slamming the door repeatedly in each other’s faces, after Dad covertly searches his daughter’s room and finds—horror of horrors—a bag of pot! Once again, so much for the Fourth Amendment, at least if you’re under 18. By the way, the daughter in the spot looks well over the age of consent. The commercial condones this kind of despotic, foaming-at-the-mouth behavior with an ambiguous admonition to parents at the end: “Afraid of a few slammed doors? Get over it. Because to help your kid with their problem, first you have to get over yours.” Let’s look at this statement: At first it seems to imply that the parents should get rid of their explosive anger, but actually it justifies this oppressive approach. The problem parents have to get over is their reluctance to get violent and hysterical. Obviously compromise, conflict resolution and reasoned argument are for sissies.

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign also sponsors My Anti-Drug (freevibe.com), which brings us, in Spanish, Dummies, featuring the famed crash-test dummies (which used to promote seat belts) toking it up and getting into a devastating accident in a lab dedicated to making accidents happen. You don’t have to speak Spanish to figure out La Causa. Ads also come in Cambodian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Dummies mines the same vein of malleable truth and outright mendacity as the spot with the poor Hispanic kid mourning the loss of a friend in a traffic accident and blaming it on pot. What the ad fails to mention is that accidents involving pot usually also involve alcohol. Liquor is metabolized by the body in hours, leaving pot—which can stay in the fatty tissues for months—to take the blame.

And, of course, the ad that has generated the most controversy is the 2002 Super Bowl Sunday spot that equated blowing a J with supporting international terrorism. (“Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, it might come from you.”) Presumably Osama bin Laden gets a cut from every nickel-bag sold in America. Quaffing down a sixpack is way cool, because it’s legal. Filling up your SUV with expensive gasoline from those good friends of the Bush family (and our valiant ally in the war on terrorism), the House of Saud, is also no problemo—save when the dough goes to support Muslim madrassas throughout the world where children learn that Jews are pigs and monkeys, the United States is the Great Satan, and the lust for death is far more powerful than the lust for life. Think of it as No Terrorist Left Behind.

It’s swell for Budweiser to spend 50 G’s a second to keep people drinking beer—that’s free enterprise. It is quite another thing for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to spend over $1.6 million each for two 30-second ads during the Super Bowl, the biggest media market in the United States, to blast government propaganda down the throats of 130 million people. Since 1997, over a five-year period, approximately $1 billion has been allocated to paid media—your tax dollars at work, on behalf of ad agencies and TV networks. And most studies have shown that these scare tactics increase, rather then lessen, a kid’s curiosity about illegal substances. The moronic This Is Your Brain on Drugs campaign, which likened the Stoner’s cerebrum to an egg in a frying pan, became one of the most parodied and ridiculed advertisements of its day.

Maybe it’s time to allow parents who smoke pot to raise their children their own way, exercising responsibility and good judgment, and with the guidance, honesty and intuition that only a parent can bring to their children’s lives. Take the billions being squandered on frightening our kids and freaking out their parents, and turn it over to libraries, colleges and our sorely underfunded public schools—or return it to the taxpayers as a rebate, so the citizens of America can finally afford some decent herb.

High Times Magazine, July/August 2004

Read the full issue here.

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