Just Say What?
Despite the fact that my parents now live what many would consider a neo-hippie lifestyle on Salt Spring Island (sheep, art, vegetables) and that I have become quite outspoken in my views on marijuana reform, I did not grow up in a pot-positive family. Quite the opposite, in fact. One day, when I was just entering my troublesome teens, my father sat me down for a little talk.
"If I ever catch you with drugs," he said with his best don't-even-think-of-it scowl, "I'll call the police myself."
So I made sure he never caught me.
As with most kids, threats alone weren't enough to stop me from taking my first toke -- but they were enough to ensure that I never told my parents until I was in my 30s. Now, after 22 years of responsible drug use, I find myself a walking contradiction of the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs: I'm healthy, articulate, creative, spiritual, efficient, responsible, well-educated, well-employed, have good reflexes, a good memory and an expansive mind (plus, I'm tremendously modest) -- and I'm a daily pot smoker.
My wife and I are planning to start a family, so we've been thinking about how we'll talk to our kids about pot. Given the fact that the mainstream media takes great delight in trumpeting the type of "mother shoots heroin into daughter's friend" story that raised eyebrows south of the border last week, it's no surprise that it's tough to find pro-pot parents willing to compare notes.
"How do you talk about using drugs responsibly?" ponders Susan Sophia*, the mother of two boys, age 8 and 11. "Can those two words go into the same sentence? Drugs and responsibility? I think so."
Sophia, 42, has been smoking pot for 29 years and she's currently grappling with the fact that her oldest son has just begun the U.S.-based DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program at his school. "Basically," Sophia explains, "what his age group is told is, you know, 'Don't do drugs. Drugs are not a good thing.'"
Sophia is hardly a poster girl for drug abuse: she's career-driven, active in both community and church, is a responsible and caring mother. Yet she's also not willing to stop smoking pot just because she's raising children -- but that doesn't mean she's going to sit down and light up in front of them, either. "I think kids need boundaries about how much information they're given by their parents," says Sophia. "I don't think it's helpful to give full disclosure. I think you undermine some of your role when you blur the lines too much with kids. You still have to be the parent. They're looking for boundaries: how much, how often, all of that."
Jim and Gina Spec take the opposite approach: they're all for full disclosure, and when their two sons were old enough, they were completely up front about their own habits. "It's important for kids to know what drugs are about, to know the difference between positive and negative, to know where the line is," Jim tells me. "That knowledge is what's going to protect them in the future." "We waited until they were 13 and 14," Gina adds. "That was the time they were ready to say, 'Hey, what are you doing. Can I try?'" "'Just say no' is simplistic balderdash," Jim scoffs. "You say no to a kid and they're going to want to know why."
Gina tells me the watchwords for her sons are "be wary and aware." The Specs, both pushing 50, have been regular smokers for the past 32 years and, like Sophia, they are healthy, happy, well-adjusted people. OK, maybe they lean a little closer to the stereotypical hippie-parent image, but that doesn't make them bad people; if anything, they're just more honest than many of their peers.
"After 32 years of smoking, we've never found anything harmful," Jim preaches (no need -- I'm converted). "There's not many prescription drugs you could use for 32 years without side effects."
Also like Sophia, the Specs used their own habits as teaching tools for their family, equating drug use with other issues of responsibility like sex, driving and drinking. "We were very negative about tobacco," Jim adds, telling me how after a close family friend died of lung cancer, he shared his own struggle to quit smoking with the boys as a way for them to learn about the seriousness of addiction. "Neither of the kids smoke," he smiles, telling me they still have a "no smoking tobacco" ban in their house.
Both Sophia and the Specs, however, find themselves in the minority when it comes to their views on parenting and responsible drug use. The Specs tell of how few of their sons' friends' parents have the slightest clue of what their children may be doing, and of the resulting alienation a closed mind and harsh attitude often brings to a family.
"If you can't be honest and straightforward with your family, what kind of family is that? What kind of society is that?" Gina sighs. "If you really believe that it's wrong, that you have to hide it from your family, why do it?" Sophia concurs. "Because there's still some taboo around it -- and being illegal helps uphold that taboo -- I'm not sure how much we openly share among parents. Who's still using, who did use, how are you handling it with your kids? It's not a topic that gets shared very much. I'd still be cautious."
"Ultimately," Sophia sums up, "you've gotta go with what you think is right for your own little nuclear family. Any subject that's taboo ends up being in the shadow place, and then we're not getting a chance to look at it in a healthy way." She pauses, then laughs. "Sometimes I think when my kids catch their first whiff of pot they'll say, 'Hey, that's the perfume my mom always wore!' "
*All names changed to protect the innocent -- and they are innocent, regardless of what the powers-that-be would have you believe.
John Threlfall is the Arts Editor of Monday Magazine.