Our parents probably had it easier when it came time to talk to us about marijuana: an abstinence-only message, or keeping mum on the subject, are both a lot easier than the legal and cultural nuances parents need to articulate in 2016.
Even though you might partake yourself, that doesn't mean you want your kids doing so before they're ready to wrap their minds around the effects, and their attendant responsibilities. Our Civilized Cannabis Culture Poll revealing 51 percent of marijuana users surveyed have kids under the age of 13, and 27 percent have children between 13 and 17. So for many of you, it's almost time - if not past the time - for "The Pot Talk".
Broaching the topic is a big deal. You don't want to mess it up. Here are five things you probably shouldn't say to your kids about pot.
1. "It's just a plant"
OK, this is factually correct - but it minimizes the effects and cultural importance of marijuana, which has actually become a potent symbol for a range of things from hippies and slackerdom to capitalist cash-grab. Tritely relegating cannabis to the status of, like, basil, is inaccurate and doesn't really equip your kid with useful information. By contrast, cannabis entrepreneur Todd Mitchem tells The Cannabist his 11-year-old son, "knows probably more about cannabis than most grown-ups who are not in the space. We talk about the facts. We talk about the science," he says. Imparting facts means acknowledging the plant's fraught history, and complex symbolism, in an age-appropriate way.
2. "It's for adults - end of story"
Like sex, driving, tying the knot, joining the army, entering into binding legal contracts, and other activities best reserved until you're a full-grown adult, cannabis use requires maturity. But framing cannabis as some sort of exclusive-grown-ups-only club only incites any teenager with normal curiosity. You can explain the problems that marijuana can cause for the developing brain without making cannabis use some sort of arbitrary benchmark of adulthood. "There is growing evidence that repeated exposure to cannabis that begins during adolescence is associated with a decline in IQ of about 10 points when subjects are tested in adulthood," says Sanjiv Kumra, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School, "Wait until you're a bit older" is a less restrictive and more realistic message to impart - that if they wait until they're, say, 21, they can see what all the fuss is about.
3. "Everything people say about cannabis is a lie"
There's been a lot of spin over the prohibition era - but that doesn't mean there's no good information available about marijuana, good and bad, especially as the mainstream narrative changes and better portrayals of cannabis users become normalized. From the rise of sites like our own, to the push to get media outlets to use more realistic stock images for cannabis stories to kid's books about medical marijuana. While cautioning the kids against spin is wise in all areas of life, not just cannabis, its also important to point them toward books, movies, and TV shows that represent the truth about the plant - insofar as such a thing exists.
4. "It's a lot like alcohol"
The alcohol comparison might be a useful tool when you're trying to describe how some adults choose to consume different kinds of drugs, but equating cannabis and alcohol can be confusing. For one: alcohol is way more dangerous: nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually in America, making it the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the country. By comparison zero people have ever fatally overdosed on cannabis. As the Marijuana Policy Project puts it, "alcohol is more toxic, more addictive, more harmful to the body, more likely to result in injuries, and more likely to lead to interpersonal violence than marijuana." Our poll showed that most Americans already understand cannabis is safer than alcohol, and it's important to bear this in mind when making drawing comparisons in conversations with young people.
5. "Try it with us first"
Even cannabis activists and industry leaders generally balk at consuming around their kids: one thing you definitely don't want to do is put your kid in the position where the first time they smoke up is with their parents, which is an intrinsically weird power dynamic. "No! You should definitely not smoke pot with your teen," says Joani Geltman, author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens. Geltman says that when you tell your teen that they should only smoke at home, or not do it too much, "What kids hear is, 'My parents think it's okay for me to do drugs.' They have very selective hearing," she says. You might feel like you're being cool and progressive and keeping an eye on them during their first marijuana experience - but he or she might actually feel pressured to do what you want, because, you know, you're their parent. Advise, encourage responsible use, then adopt a laissez-faire approach.