Practical Dad

Marijuana and the Family

This article's title is vastly different from the one originally planned, more sedate and less witty - at least as far as I was concerned - than its predecessor.  While I've written about the changes in marijuana law and policy before (here, here, and here), this article was prompted by the flurry of articles referencing the President's comments on marijuana in his interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker; the gist of most was that the purported Stoner-in-Chief was ambivalent about the legalization of pot and ran with an undercurrent of right-wing law-and-order disapproval.  The original opening paragraph was likewise offended by the comments, but then I decided that I ought to first read the article - and it's a tome - in entirety and to my frank surprise, found that his comments mirror what's being said in this household to the kids.

The President was asked about the legalization of marijuana and his opinion reflected the changes that my own have undergone as well in the past several years, with one caveat.  I'm not in favor of it but see how it will become more acceptable, having heard the debate points at the family dinner table about how pot is really not harmful and certainly not affecting the judgment or reflexes like alcohol.  Seriously, Dad, have you ever heard of someone having an accident while stoned? Actually, yes...  I also understand the President's comments about the prevalence of marijuana convictions in today's penal system, especially with racial disparities between young African-American teens and others.  One of my growing bugaboos about the country today is that we've developed a multi-tier judicial system and that the elites are sheltered from serving time in a penal system that in some cases has a financial incentive for incarceration.  So if we've got to fill beds, let's fill 'em with the potheads since they're young, politically stupid and generally more controllable than others in society...  The President and I are similar in our ages and both came of age in the 1970s but while the President smoked dope, I demurred since I frankly thought that the feeling wasn't worth the money or the risk of legal trouble.  We're also alike in that we have children who are now out and about in the school system, coming into contact with a wide variety of kids whose upbringing and family opinions don't jibe with our own.

There are similarities as well in our conversations with the kids about smoking dope, although my language has been a bit different.  While I agree that it's a waste of time (and money) and a vice, I found his description of pot-smoking as a bad habit hilariously off the mark.  I shared this short segment of the entire article with the two sons and commented that cracking knuckles and chewing with your mouth open is a bad habit, but smoking dope is something else entirely...  The kids are also aware that while it's now legal in Colorado and Washington, we still live in Pennsylvania and it's clearly illegal here and the household rule is the same as that with which my wife and I were raised, i.e. if you're old enough to get into legal trouble, you're old enough to deal with the consequences   Until society finally decides one way or another, we're going to follow the company line and even then, I'll choose not to indulge.  One of the other arguments against when discussing it with the kids is that there are long-term health consequences to smoking weed.  In 2012, a UK study over a four decade period found that those who started and used marijuana regularly while younger - especially below 18 years of age - had an average IQ drop of 8 points in their adulthood.  This is especially important for the youngsters as we're all going to be entering a period in which everyone's going to be competing more than ever before for limited resources and opportunities. 

There is one aspect that the President left unsaid.  One of the key aspects in the referenda victories was the notion of taxation for revenues and it's here that family conversation has revolved.  My recurrent phrase to the boys at home has been follow the money, a reminder from the Watergate informer, Deep Throat, that the answer to many questions lies at a trail involving money.  After the referenda victories out west, there was a wonderously eloquent silence from the federal government and if you listened closely, that cricket-like sound was actually the noise of distant adding machines in Washington, DC tabulating the potential revenue windfall should legalization go national.  It was literally weeks before there was any substantive comment from the President and it was the simple statement that budget issues being what they are, the Justice Department has bigger fish to fry than the wholesale prosecution of marijuana producers and users.  This was the comment that is setting the tone for the public policy regarding marijuana and it's the basis for a later family conversation about not just marijuana but also the role of government.  The boys learned that when Pennsylvania was considering a state lottery in the 1970s, one of the questions raised was whether the government should be in the business of profiting from the legalization of what is arguably - as per our President - a vice; it's a philosophic question that is still relevant as the various levels of government prepare to profit from present and future legalization.  If the government is going to take a long-held position and throw it into the trash heap, ask yourself why and whether it really is a reasonable change or one based upon cynical calculation.

Now that the first steps have been made towards the legalization - and taxation - of marijuana, parents are going to have to think long and hard about their own family stance on marijuana since this is coming back into the parental faces.  Take some time to look at the studies and then examine your own history, remembering that it's okay to have a different opinion about it than when you yourself were a teenager...that's the value of maturity and distance.  Then go to the hard work of talking with the kids and forming a family line on the issue, and preparing to come back to that line again, and again, and yet again.  Because while the President might have some grounds for moral suasion on any particular question, the reality is that your kids will often listen to you and your commentary.  Even when you think that they aren't.

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