Parenting in the Age of Legal Marijuana

111715_Parenting in the Age of Legal Marijuana 

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Latest polls suggest that more than half of the United States supports marijuana legalization. Yet the question, “What about the kids?” prevents many parents from fully enjoying the perks of cannabis, even when it’s being used for medicinal purposes.

“For parents, this is a confusing time. If they’re users, how are they going to talk to their kids?” asked Matthew Kuehlhorn, founder of Community Thrive, a Colorado organization that aims to prevent youth substance abuse. “This is a social culture change we haven’t seen the likes of since alcohol prohibition ended.”

Child Neglect Cases

Many parents are wary using legal marijuana because parental pot smoking can be used as a factor in child neglect cases, pretty much like alcohol. Some parents were even accused of endangering their children, with child protective service agencies even taking away their children.

Just this month, a pot-smoking couple who owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Washington had their 5-year-old taken away when he tested positive for THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Earlier this year, Child Protective Services also took away the 11-year-old son of Shonda Banda, who uses medical marijuana for Crohn’s disease. Banda now faces the possibility of child endangerment and other charges.

“Whether a substance is legal or illegal is of less concern to us than whether or not it’s affecting someone’s ability to parent,” said Mindy Good, spokeswoman for Child and Family Services in the District. “For instance, alcohol is totally legal. But if it’s impairing the ability to protect and care for your child, that’s when we step in.”

The Parental Stigma

Despite legalization, the stigma for marijuana users still exists. Pot-smoking parents worry that their use will be met with the disapproval of others, who might ostracize their children.

“Even in Colorado, there’s still such a stigma for parents,” said Brittany Driver, who writes the Pot and Parenting column for the Denver Post. “It’s hard to talk about (it) openly.”

For instance, stay-at-home mom Yvonne Maguire smokes weed to deal with her insomnia and migraines, but she’s terrified that her District neighbors will know about it. It was only in January 2014 when her family moved to Colorado that she and her husband were able to join groups for parents who smoke pot.

Parents also fear that if they reveal that they’re using pot, teens will be more likely to give it a try—a trend that’s supported by research. Some studies have even found out that heavy marijuana use during adolescence can disrupt the development of the brain.

In Washington, Kathy Henderson of the Parents Against Pot movement said that she noticed that legalization led to children “walking around the street openly smoking marijuana and thinking it’s okay.”

She said, “It’s very, very disheartening. Our children have so many challenges to begin with, this has really set us back. It’s crazy.”

For this reason, a group known as Green Flower Media is releasing a new report called “Be Askable,” which contains advice for setting family rules and a “just wait” message to help teens delay any substance use until their brains are fully developed.

Also, not all kids have followed the footsteps of their parents when it comes to smoking pot. Candace Junkin, co-founder of the International Women’s Cannabis Coalition, has been using marijuana since 2002 to ease the pain from her trigeminal neuralgia. At first, she hid her weed usage to her kids, but it was only a matter of time before they figured it out. Though she has shared the research she’d done on the health benefits of weed, none of her four kids smoke pot.

“For a pothead mom, I think I’ve done okay,” she said.

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