Pot-smok­ing par­ents: What about the kids?

Many un­cer­tain about nav­i­gat­ing the ‘new nor­mal’

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY BRIGID SCHULTE

Like the par­ent of any tod­dler and kinder­gart­ner, Jared wants to keep cer­tain things out of reach.

Liquor is stored out of sight in a cup­board. The house­hold clean­ers are safely kept be­hind child­proof locks. And the mar­i­juana is stashed high on a shelf in a fire­proof lock­box.

Evenings fall into a familiar rou­tine. Fam­ily din­ner. Baths. Then, af­ter their daugh­ters are snug­gled in for the night, Jared slips out onto the back deck of their Dis­trict apart­ment and a now-legal bowl of mar­i­juana.

“It re­laxes me. And it helps me get per­spec­tive to see the big pic­ture. I find that en­joy­able,” said Jared, a rare par­ent in the Dis­trict who was will­ing to talk openly about his mar­i­juana use. He asked that his full name not be used be­cause he is con­cerned about the im­pact on his chil­dren.

Jared said he and other pot- smok­ing par­ents he knows have one iron­clad rule: They don’t smoke in front of their kids. Yet what will hap­pen once the kids fig­ure out Dad’s on the bal­cony get­ting high?

More than half the coun­try sup­ports le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, ac­cord­ing to polls. But it’s this ques­tion — What about the kids? — that pro­vokes un­ease, even out­rage, and keeps many pot-smokes us­ing par­ents un­cer­tain about how to nav­i­gate the “new nor­mal” of le­gal­ized mar­i­juana.

The stakes are high for both par­ents and kids. Even where the drug is legal, parental potsmok­ing can be con­sid­ered as a fac­tor in child-ne­glect cases, just like al­co­hol. As a re­sult, some par­ents have been ac­cused of en­dan­ger­ing their chil­dren and had them taken away by child protective ser­vice agen­cies.

There are fears that if par­ents re­veal their use, teens will be more likely to give it a try, a

phe­nom­e­non sup­ported by re­search. And although the science is fairly new, some stud­ies have found heavy mar­i­juana use in ado­les­cence can per­ma­nently dis­rupt key net­works in the de­vel­op­ing brain as­so­ci­ated with mem­ory and pro­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“For par­ents, this is a con­fus­ing time. If they’re users, how are they go­ing to talk to their kids?” said Matthew Kuehlhorn, founder of Com­mu­nity Thrive, a new or­ga­ni­za­tion in Colorado that helps fa­cil­i­tate such talks in an ef­fort to pre­vent youth sub­stance use. “This is a so­cial cul­ture change we haven’t seen the likes of since al­co­hol prohibition ended.”

Kathy Hen­der­son, who leads a Par­ents Against Pot ef­fort in her Trinidad neigh­bor­hood in North­east Wash­ing­ton, said she has no­ticed that le­gal­iza­tion has led to a higher in­ci­dence of chil­dren “walk­ing around the street openly smok­ing mar­i­juana and think­ing it’s okay.”

“It’s very, very dis­heart­en­ing,” she said. “Our chil­dren have so many chal­lenges to begin with, this has re­ally set us back. It’s crazy.”

Play­ing it straight

Jared said he doesn’t want his daugh­ters to use mar­i­juana as mi­nors, but he plans to be straight with them when they’re older.

“When they get to the age of 21, and can make a legal choice, they need to know, hon­estly, ‘What’s al­co­hol like? What’s it go­ing to do to me? What are the risks? And what’s cannabis like?’ ”

In Jared’s mind, cannabis — ad­vo­cates’ pre­ferred term— is the sub­stance of lesser harm. It’s less ad­dic­tive, stud­ies have found, causes fewer health prob­lems and, un­like al­co­hol, no one has ever died us­ing it.

And he likes the idea that reg­u­lat­ing the mar­i­juana trade should make mar­i­juana harder for teens to ac­quire.

In time, he hopes smok­ing a joint will be as un­re­mark­able for par­ents as crack­ing open a beer at the end of the day. But that’s not to­day.

Even Jared, whomade the de­ci­sion to “out” him­self as a pot smoker be­cause he works for the pro-le­gal­iza­tion Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, is ner­vous. He has­tens to say that he never smokes so much he couldn’t quickly re­spond to an emer­gency with the kids.

“There’s still so much stigma,” he said. “If I worked any­place else, I wouldn’t be talk­ing openly.”

Find­ing con­nec­tions

Ad­vo­cates for le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana say there are more potsmok­ing par­ents than most peo­ple think. The Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­ported that 47 per­cent of Amer­i­cans — about 150 mil­lion peo­ple— have tried mar­i­juana.

A group of moth­ers in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., made head­lines as the “Mar­i­juana Moms” not long ago when they came clean about us­ing mar­i­juana to deal with chronic pain. And the Global Drug Pol­icy Ob­ser­va­tory found that women be­tween the ages of 30 and 50 were among the big­gest sup­port­ers of le­gal­iza­tion in Wash­ing­ton state and Colorado.

“Mar­i­juana, of all the min­dal­ter­ing sub­stances, is prob­a­bly the only one that helps you cope with be­ing a par­ent,” said Adam Eidinger, a cannabis ac­tivist in the Dis­trict, who said he smokes mar­i­juana reg­u­larly for med­i­cal rea­sons. “It gives you pa­tience.”

Like Jared, Eidinger keeps his stash in a safe locked away from his 11-year-old daugh­ter, and he smokes on his con­dominum’s roof deck. But he’s been push­ing the Dis­trict to amend the new law, which per­mits the drug to be used in­side one’s home, in or­der to al­low pot smok­ing at spe­cial roof decks, beer gar­dens or bars. “I don’t know how that’s any bet­ter for chil­dren — hav­ing friends come over to my house and smok­ing weed around my kid,” he said.

Yvonne Maguire, a stay-ath­ome mother of young chil­dren, was ter­ri­fied that her Dis­trict neigh­bors would find out she smoked mar­i­juana to deal with in­som­nia and mi­graines. But since she moved to Colorado, where the recre­ational use of mar­i­juana has been legal since Jan­uary 2014, she and her hus­band have joined groups that ac­tivists have put to­gether for par­ents who smoke pot.

“It’s re­ally nice,” she said. “It’s a way for par­ents to feel more com­fort­able.”

Brit­tany Driver, mother of a 3-year-old and regular med­i­cal mar­i­juana user, dis­penses ad­vice in her Pot and Par­ent­ing col­umn for the Den­ver Post.

She’s also help­ing to pro­mote an app, called High There, that will help pot-smok­ing moth­ers find each other.

“Even in Colorado, there’s still such a stigma for par­ents, it’s still hard to talk about openly,” Driver said.

Legal ques­tions

Be­cause of that stigma, even when it’s legal, some pot-smok­ing par­ents worry that their use will be met with the dis­ap­proval of oth­ers, who might os­tra­cize their chil­dren.

But what keeps many par­ents un­der­ground, they say, is their ter­ror of some­one call­ing Child Protective Ser­vices. A potsmok­ing cou­ple who ran a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in Wash­ing­ton state, where med­i­cal and recre­ational mar­i­juana use is legal, had their 5-year-old taken away and placed in CPS protective cus­tody in Novem­ber when he tested pos­i­tive for THC, the psy­cho-ac­tive chem­i­cal in mari-clubs, juana.

Andin April, CPS took away the 11-year-old son of Shona Banda, who uses mar­i­juana to man­age Crohn’s dis­ease and is an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for med­i­cal mar­i­juana in Kansas, where le­gal­iza­tion bills failed this year. Af­ter her son spoke out about med­i­cal mar­i­juana in school, po­lice in­ves­ti­gated and found mar­i­juana, drug para­pher­na­lia and a lab for ex­tract­ing cannabis oil in the kitchen, within easy reach of chil­dren. Banda faces the pos­si­bil­ity of child en­dan­ger­ment and other charges.

Mindy Good, spokes­woman for Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices in the Dis­trict, said of­fi­cials have been hav­ing se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions about what mar­i­juana’s new legal sta­tus in the Dis­trict will mean.

“Whether a sub­stance is legal or il­le­gal is of less con­cern to us than whether or not it’s af­fect­ing some­one’s abil­ity to par­ent,” she said. “For in­stance, al­co­hol is to­tally legal. But if it’s im­pair­ing the abil­ity to pro­tect and care for your child, that’s when we step in.”

Sara Arnold co-founded the Fam­ily Law & Cannabis Al­liance, a Mas­sachusetts-based group that mon­i­tors and ad­vo­cates for pot-smok­ing par­ents’ legal rights, in part be­cause she her­self, a med­i­cal mar­i­juana user, has been in­ves­ti­gated by CPS three times.

“We have ac­tu­ally had in­stances of med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients in states where med­i­cal mar­i­juana is legal fac­ing ter­mi­na­tion of their parental rights,” Arnold said. “If a par­ent had a bot­tle of wine, no one would be com­ing to check that out.”

Chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics

Though stud­ies show that the ma­jor­ity of mar­i­juana users tend to be lower-in­come and those with less than a high school ed­u­ca­tion, Max Simon, with Green Flower Me­dia, sees that chang­ing. Green Flower is spon­sor­ing a “Com­ing Out Green” cam­paign of re­ports and videos of per­sonal sto­ries to re­ha­bil­i­tate pot’s out­law im­age.

“One of the fastest grow­ing mar­kets we’re see­ing is the baby­boom gen­er­a­tion,” who smoked pot in col­lege then quit when they got jobs and now want to use it again, he said. And most of them are par­ents. The group is re­leas­ing a new re­port, “Be Ask­able,” with ad­vice for set­ting fam­ily rules and a “just wait” mes­sage to help teens de­lay any sub­stance use un­til their brains are de­vel­oped.

Can­dace Junkin, co-founder of the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Cannabis Coali­tion, is a mother of four and grand­mother of three who lives in St. Mary’s County, Md., where med­i­cal mar­i­juana has been legal since 2014. ( Vir­ginia re­cently passed a bill le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana for epilepsy, glau­coma and can­cer.) She suf­fers from trigem­i­nal neu­ral­gia, a con­di­tion that causes ex­cru­ci­at­ing shoot­ing pains in her face. Her doc­tors ini­tially pre­scribed painkillers, but they made her so dis­ori­ented her chil­dren called her “Mom­bie.” In 2002, she found mar­i­juana eased the pain and be­gan smok­ing or va­por­iz­ing up to six times a day.

At first, she was so ashamed that she hid her use from her chil­dren. “But over the years, the kids started to see that when Mommy would be hurt­ing, she would go in her bed­room, and she would come out and she would be bet­ter,” Junkin said.

She de­cided to share the re­search she’d done on the health benefits of cannabis with them. None of her chil­dren, the youngest of whom is 17, smoke pot.

“One kid is about to go to col­lege. An­other is about to grad­u­ate. One owns her own busi­ness,” she said. “For a pot­head mom, I think I’ve done okay.”

“For par­ents, this is a con­fus­ing time. If they’re users, how are they go­ing to talk to their kids?”

Matthew Kuehlhorn of Com­mu­nity Thrive, a fa­cil­i­ta­tion group in Colorado

REZA A. MARVASHTI FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Can­dace Junkin is a co-founder of an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion of women work­ing to make mar­i­juana legal for those with health con­cerns and those who use it recre­ation­ally.

REZA A. MARVASHTI FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“. . . the kids started to see that whenMommy would be hurt­ing, she would go in her bed­room, and she would come out and she would be bet­ter,” said Can­dace Junkin, who uses pot for trigem­i­nal neu­ral­gia, which causes se­vere shoot­ing pains in the face.

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