As Americans across the country watched the ball drop in New York’s Times Square last week, some, especially in states such as Washington and Colorado where recreational marijuana use was legalized last year, likely celebrated the passing of 2014 by lighting up a joint in lieu of, or in addition to, pouring a glass of champagne. But were their minor children as likely to sneak a toke of marijuana as they were to spike their cokes with shots of Jack Daniel’s?
In 2015, the “drug talk” that parents are strenuously encouraged to have with their children at increasingly younger ages isn’t what it used to be. With medical marijuana legal in 23 states, including Maryland, and possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use decriminalized in 18 states, Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just say no” no longer seems adequate to many. Add to this the fact that many of today’s parents, including President Barack Obama, have at least tried pot — and support its legalization — it would seem that the dreaded “drug talk” with one’s kids is now more dreadful than ever. Or is it?
Howard Reznick, senior manager of prevention education at Jewish Community Services, acknowledges that legalization and decriminalization of marijuana does put the drug more on par with alcohol, making it seem more acceptable.
“It’s reflective of the baby boomers now in charge of the legislative agenda and their positive experiences with marijuana,” said Reznick. “But, as in the cases of alcohol and cigarettes, just because it is legal doesn’t mean it is healthy.”
For Owings Mills mom R.S., who chose to remain anonymous for this article, addressing the issue of the legalization of marijuana with her daughter, S.S., is of immediate concern. S.S. will start college in Colorado this fall.
“We’ve had numerous conversations, more like monologues on my part,” she said. “But that’s OK, as long as she hears me.”
R.S. also sends articles about the dangers of synthetic marijuana to her daughter whenever she comes across them.
“I’ve said to her, ‘I know when you go to college, you’re likely to drink, and since you’re in Colorado, you may smoke pot.’ I also tell her that I hope I will be the first person she calls if she is ever in a jam, because I will be there for her, whatever it is,” said the mother. “I think that by recognizing she is going to do it, she is more apt to listen.”
Reznick agreed that parents will have better results if they stay away from outdated theories about the dangers of marijuana, assume that their children may experiment with it and have ongoing discussions about what they can expect if they choose to use the drug.
“Discussions about the risks and benefits of marijuana, and alcohol and cigarettes, should be part of ongoing discussions between parents and children,” urged Reznick. “We are long past the days of ‘Just say no.’ That technique has really lost credibility over the past two decades.”
Reznick said it’s more about making choices and knowing the consequences.
“Marijuana can be fun, it can be an appetite stimulant, some get paranoid, and others get relaxed. It helps some people to become more introspective and creative,” he said. “But as with all substances, if we come to rely upon it, we can have problems.”
Ettah Angster, mother of 15-year-old Serena, a student at Dulaney High School in Timonium, knows quite a bit about the negative consequences of substance abuse. In her professional life, Angster, who has degrees in counseling and correction services for youth and whose job involves helping mentally ill substance abusers find housing, has seen firsthand how addiction destroys lives.
“I look at pot the same way as alcohol and cigarettes,” said Angster. “In talking with my daughter, I have always stayed away from the legal side of the issue. I focus on chemistry, the way they impact the brain and body, especially in a female.”
And though Angster realizes that most people who use pot will not become addicted, as a parent, she has strived to keep Serena clean and sober until she is old enough to make an educated choice on her own.
“So far, it seems to have worked,” she said. “My daughter has a clear sense of purpose. She has a really good group of friends who are healthy. She doesn’t have the desire to sneak around and do drugs.”
Stevenson parents Karen and Andy Segal also believe that talking with their children, Ben, 17, and Annie, 14, both students at The Park School, about the consequences of drugs and alcohol use is an important parenting responsibility. Karen Segal noted that their talks with the teens have remained “pretty much the same regardless of the changing laws.”
“It is not so much about what Andy and I believe or don’t believe [about marijuana], it’s more that we want them to know that anything they might do that results in legal trouble, school trouble or trouble with their thinking gets postponed until they are developmentally able to make those choices on their own,” Segal said.
Reznick echoed Segal’s comments regarding the value of postponing marijuana use at least until children reach full adulthood.
“As with alcohol and other drugs, when kids use them, it affects their developing brains significantly,” he said. “We tell kids that using drugs or alcohol before their brains are fully developed puts them at much higher risk of problems than postponing it.”
Reznick’s other advice to parents? “Listen, listen, listen!”
So, What is the Law?
It was hard for people of any age to miss last year’s news, when recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older became legal in Colorado and Washington. In the coming year, it will also become legal in Oregon and Alaska.
In Maryland, and especially in the nearby District of Columbia, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2010, residents have also seen major changes in marijuana legislation.
By 2014, medical marijuana possession was legal in 23 states and D.C. with Maryland being the 21st to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Marijuana has also been decriminalized in 18 states including D.C., where in 2014, the City Council decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, revising the penalty for possession of up to 1 ounce with a $25 civil fine. In April 2014, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that reduces the penalty for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana to a civil fine, the amount of which will depend upon the number of prior offenses.