Parenting in the age of cannabis

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Parents with middle school and high school children face challenges that pre-legal marijuana parents did not have.

Now that marijuana is legal for adults, it is more visible, more difficult to demonize the drug to 11, 12, and 13 year olds. Last Wednesday night a panel of adults who deal with kids and pot issues led a discussion of how parents can talk to their kids about marijuana use.

The discussion was hosted by Hansen Wendlandt, pastor of the Nederland Presbyterian Church, where the meeting was held. The panel consisted of Nederland Police Department Chief Paul Carrill, TEENS, Inc., Executive Director Stephen Lefaiver, Peak to Peak Counselor Amy Hartman, Colorado Department of Public Health Marijuana Education Program representative Erin Flynn, and Harvest House owner Stacy Johnson.

Last fall, Nederland students completed a survey about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use and the panel discussed some of the numbers related to cannabis.

55 percent had tried marijuana, 18 percent before the age of 13; and 36 percent had used marijuana one or more times in the past 30 days.
63 percent said access to marijuana is easy.
33 percent said regular marijuana users have moderate to great risk of harming themselves.
64 percent of the students said it is wrong to use marijuana.
48 percent said it wrong for adults in the neighborhood to use it and 64 percent said it is wrong for parents to use it.
15 percent said they thought police would catch kids using in the neighborhood.
55 percent of the students know someone with a medical marijuana license.

Erin Flynn said every community should have access to health care and other services and those programs should be set up to keep young people safe, including information about marijuana.

There are very vocal voices on both sides of the marijuana issues, says Chief Carrill. “We will do a better job when we learn what the community wants; we need to hear from you about being a healthy community.”

Teens need to feel comfortable and empowered to seek help from parents and other adults, said Stephen Lefaiver.

Stacy Johnson, who owns a dispensary in Nederland, told the group that he has a long history with marijuana and so far has obscured it from his children; that the pot dialogue is new in his house. “They have confusion about tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke. I think the most important thing is to know where they are and who they are with.”
Amy Hartman told the audience that parents should understand where their kids are in their life and talk to them about marijuana.

Chief Carrill said his youngest boy was in college and when he was growing up, pot wasn’t legal. At the time, Carrill was an undercover narcotics agent and wondered how his son perceived him then and now. “I never subscribed to the ‘They’ll figure it out ‘ philosophy. Now, I am cautious about stepping into a parental role.”

Setting limits and talking about consequences is a must when discussing drugs. Stacy Johnson said he couldn’t get away with anything and he attributes his not-getting-into-trouble past to his mother’s participation in his life and her cultural savvy. “Parents need to keep up with emergent drugs, know the terminology, and talk to their kids.”

Some parents and the police chief worried about the fact that a low percentage of students thought they would be caught and wanted to know what Nederland is doing wrong. Stephen Lefaiver said that Ned has unique risk factors, including the fact that most parents work outside of the area and that there are places in the woods where the kids won’t be seen. One of the parents told Carrill, “Help me enforce what I am teaching my children.”

Erin Flynn told parents that eighth and ninth grades students used to show a spike in marijuana use, but now it is happening in sixth and seventh grade. “You should start the conversation about drugs when kids are in the third and fourth grade.”

Edible marijuana has led to some students ending up in the emergency room, not realizing the potency of a substance that tastes like candy and takes a while to affect the user. Edibles seem more innocent but are, in fact, extremely powerful; it doesn’t take much, especially to someone who hasn’t used it before, to have too much.

Those who attended the meeting left feeling more confident about their ability to talk with their children about the effects of marijuana and about communicating with them on an ongoing basis, making it a part of the family life. Having public meetings to discuss the issue will also continue to be part of the community life.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.