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Coming Out to Your Kids About Cannabis

If you've been fairly honest about cannabis with your kids, they are likely to be honest about it, and other things, with you. After they graduate from college, perhaps you'll be passing them a joint as you watch the sun go down.
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As a parent, you may have been dreading the question even more than "Is Santa Claus really real?"

When your little one asks, "Did you and daddy (or mommy) smoke pot?" what exactly do you say?

It's even worse when your young son or daughter inquires, in a voice of disdain, eyes blinking (oh, yuck) "Do you, like, ever use weed?" Present tense. Here and now. Truth and consequence. What do you do? Tell it like it is? Lie? Prevaricate?

Where Do You Live?

A lot depends on where you live. If you reside in a state where adult-use cannabis is legal, it's much easier to be honest about it with everybody in your life, children included. Many pot-smoking parents have never hidden their grinders or their pipes, any more than drinking families hide their whiskey or their ice buckets.

Some families in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska are lucky enough to live the dream that most cannabis users can only imagine: being totally open about pot, as if using herb were a perfectly safe, natural and unremarkable way to feel better (shh: it is).

What Is Your Job?

Even where legal, however, if you're known as a pothead it might hurt your career or reputation. You don't want little Cristabel lisping to your boss, "Mommy smokes a joint every night before dinner."

If you're in the arts or in tech, cannabis consumption probably won't hurt you professionally, but if you're in education, medicine or law, it probably will.

The vast majority of Americans cannot be completely candid about cannabis because of legal, professional, and social consequences, and this affects what they tell their children. These parents must fashion an individualized, age-appropriate response to the question, "Do you smoke pot?"

If You Have Little Children

When the children are little, say, under six, it's probably best to avoid the subject by basically hiding your consumption (and accouterments) from them.

If they don't see it or smell it, your children may not ask you about it for a while. If they catch you in the act, you might choose to evade the issue, "Oh, this? It's an herbal cigarette I sometimes smoke when I get headaches/backaches/stomachaches."

Nothing is more boring to children than adult health issues, and they will likely drift away.

You aren't exactly lying, and, importantly, you aren't asking your child to hide what you do. Asking a little girl or boy to keep a secret is like asking a dog not to chew a bone.

Grade School and DARE

With grade-school children, the question demands a more nuanced approach, unless the infamous DARE program, which invites children to report on their parents, is running in your local school.

DARE has been largely discredited as preventing drug use; indeed, many say it stimulates, rather than discourages, an interest in drugs.

Nonetheless, certain districts still participate in the program, which brings uniformed policemen into classroom to instill fear and disseminate misinformation.

If your child is subject to DARE, continued discretion is essential so that Liam doesn't confide to the friendly policeman that daddy sometimes uses weed to get chill.

You might consider getting together with other parents to keep DARE out of your school.

If your grade school is DARE-free, you might tell your children that some adults drink alcohol and some consume cannabis and some do neither or both. If asked, you can be honest about which group you're in, minimizing the importance of inebriants in your life. "Sometimes" you have a drink; "once in a while" you have a smoke.

You should probably add that because cannabis is illegal in your state and you don't want to pay a big fine, you're quiet about your cannabis use and you expect Darcy to be quiet about it as well. Don't bring up jail: it's too scary and is very unlikely.

When the Kids are in Middle School

As your children get into middle school, you might have teachable moments discussing who benefits when cannabis is illegal. You can discuss how the pharmaceutical industry and the paper industry lobbied hard in the thirties to get cannabis declared illegal to protect their own products.

Middle school children are old enough to understand that cannabis legality is also a social justice issue. After all, whites and African-Americans use cannabis at comparable rates, but in New York state, African-Americans are four times as likely as whites to go to prison for it. If the law isn't racist, its application is.

The High School Years

It's unlikely that your children will get to high school before asking you whether you smoke pot, but if that's the case, tell them the truth.

High school kids are likely to know friends who use weed, and they themselves may have already tried and enjoyed it. Perhaps they are really asking you about it for a goof!

If you can trust your child to be discreet, a policy of honesty is best. Denial will only lead them to distrust you, especially if Jason and Polly have already found your stash (as they probably have).

The Drug Policy Alliance has an excellent online booklet, "Safety First," which offers advice about navigating rocky teenage shoals. You want to offer good advice without being a prude. You want to tell the truth and be a guide - both at the same time.

Perhaps you can share a memory of a time you didn't get into a car with an intoxicated driver but called home instead. Reassure Lily once again that you'll always pick her up and drive her home, no matter how late, no questions asked. Safety first!

Private Morality and the Law

From an early age, children have a strong sense of justice. Their most impassioned cry is "That's no fair!" You can probably judge for yourself when they're old enough to learn the difference between private morality and the law.

Some laws are bad, and some principled people resist bad laws. Laws about slavery were resisted by people who sheltered runaway slaves. During World War II, Danes broke the law when they began wearing yellow stars signaling they were all Jews. Today, environmentalists sometimes gather on private property, or in public places, chaining themselves to bulldozers or fences on behalf of their cause.

Certain parents break the law to provide cannabis medicine to their epileptic children. Others believe, with Thomas Jefferson, that the people should not "let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take."

Jefferson would surely have hated both alcohol and marijuana prohibition, which were both colossal failures that encouraged criminal activity.

You might tell Danielle that you and millions of people find cannabis helpful in various ways, even though its official classification as a Schedule 1 drug indicates it's harmful, with no medical benefits. Federal prohibition is based on this false premise.

You might say that for thousands of years cannabis has been used as a medicine and to get people high, without a single overdose. This is a safe and helpful plant, appropriate for adult consumption, sometimes as an alternative to alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs.

A Few Caveats

You should say that it's best to postpone using cannabis or alcohol or drugs because studies have shown that early habitual users are more likely than others to have substance use problems later on.

You should tell your child that pot impedes short term memory and learning, so it's stupid to get high before class.

You should tell them that recent studies have shown that the brain continues to develop until a person is about 22. Until then, it's probably best to minimize using psychoactive drugs.

This isn't a scare tactic: it's just common sense.

A Happy Ending

If you've been fairly honest about cannabis with your kids, they are likely to be honest about it, and other things, with you.

After they graduate from college, perhaps you'll be passing them a joint as you watch the sun go down.

Perhaps Strawberry will say, "No thanks, Mom. I'm not really into it." Perhaps Dom will take a hit, exhale, and say, "Dad, it's so cool we can do this together."

This article originally appeared on Green Flower Media, which helps people learn everything about cannabis today from the world's top experts.