Q: Going through my 16-year-old son’s dirty laundry, I came across something that looks and smells like a marijuana cigarette. What do you suggest I do about this?
A: Marijuana/weed/MJ has gotten a lot of press lately, both for its ability to help people with chronic pain or nausea and also for its “social” or “recreational use.” Maybe we’re where the U.S. was in 1932 with respect to alcohol: Prohibition was still in effect and seemed in many ways to be a failure, despite the fact that the dangers of alcohol were well-known.
Four states, including neighboring Colorado, and the District of Columbia have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana; a New Mexico Senate Memorial in 2014 considered a Constitutional amendment to do the same here, but the bill died and was not revived in this year’s Legislature. Should we legalize marijuana here? Let me evade that question for the moment and attempt to answer your question.
It seems your choices include 1) coming down hard on your child for marijuana possession, 2) talking with him about your concerns about the substance, or 3) pretending that you never made that discovery. A lot of parenting involves picking your battles. I often suggest to parents that they make as few rules as possible for their children, but then that they be consistent about enforcing them. Is marijuana use worth battling about?
In the first scenario, I can see your child responding to your attack, “I was just keeping it for a friend …” or “I just use it once in awhile …” or “What’s the big deal? It’s legal just north of us!” You’d probably want to consider what response would be likely coming from your son, and be ready with prepared further points. But I wouldn’t suggest the angry attack, nor would I suggest the third alternative, pretending it never happened, since I do think this issue is important.
I would choose the second approach, as further discussion is more likely to be fruitful than a frontal attack. “I found this marijuana cigarette in your shirt pocket and would like to talk with you about my concerns about using marijuana.” Note that you haven’t asked if he uses “weed,” since you might very well not believe the answer if he said “No.” It’s probably better not to ask a question if you know the answer – better “Why did you eat that cookie?” than “Did you eat that cookie?”
“I’m concerned,” I can hear you saying, “because I don’t think smoking anything is a good idea; there’s good evidence that it damages the lungs. There are a whole lot of chemicals in marijuana, and some of them are likely to be as dangerous as some of the things we know are in tobacco. Yes, they’re both natural substances, but then so are rattlesnake venom and foxglove. And yes, marijuana is now legal in Colorado, but so are alcohol and tobacco – for adults.
It’s not legal in New Mexico for anyone except a very few with medical conditions, and you can get in a peck of trouble if you’re caught with it. When you’re an adult, you can decide for yourself whether to use any of these legal chemical things, but I’d sure like you not do so now while your brain is still growing and developing. There’s too much inside that head of yours to mess with at this point.”
You might consider reading the excellent policy statement on marijuana policies written by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), available free at pediatrics.aappublications.org. It’s a good place to gather debate points in favor of your view. It discusses the evidence of lung damage, possible interruption of the proper connecting up of the billions of cells in the brain, the increased likelihood of motor vehicle accidents among marijuana user/drivers, and the possibility (estimated as 1 in 7) of becoming addicted to the substance. We don’t want our children to be drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or using mind-altering drugs like marijuana.