Marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is an herb and a flower. God put it here. If He put it here and He wants it to grow, what gives the government the right to say that God is wrong? -- Willie Nelson
Psychospiritual exploration, soul-searching, communing with the self — these are normal and important components of the human experience. Adolescence is a prime time for this sort of exploration, and for questioning, testing limits, and defying both death and authority.
As a parent, I recognize that one of the important lessons to teach my children is about moderation: Not too loud. Not too rough. Not too much. You can do it, but be careful about this and don’t forget about that.
The chances that your kids aren’t going to have to tangle with cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs are virtually nil. Drugs are a bit like power tools. As parents, it is our job to teach kids the difference between a toy and a tool. (“Don’t touch that! It’s daddy’s tool, it’s dangerous!”) What we really should be saying is: “You need to learn how to use this first.”
We are obligated to equip our children with knowledge about drug and alcohol safety. Us. Not the police. Not the government. We, as parents, need to teach our own children. Most importantly, we should model responsible behavior.
Keeping Communication Lines Open
We’re going to have to figure out what to say to our kids that will actually keep the lines of communication open. Our children need to be advised and guided throughout their childhood. Optimally, we can speak openly about learning to use drugs as tools, to note ill-desired effects, to modify behavior, and to balance risks and benefits, and we can teach kids to make that analysis themselves.
Modeling healthy behavior is the smartest thing we can do. Think of how we teach kids about alcohol, how we allow them sips of wine at the dinner table. This way, they get to see altered states successfully navigated.
Marian Fry, M.D., in a survey of California clinicians who provide cannabis approvals, noted in her response that pot-smoking patients with parenting problems saw an “enhanced flexibility and an ability to identify the child’s needs as those of a separate and unique individual. . . . Patients say cannabis makes them less self-centered and egocentric...” (O’Shaughnessy 2007).
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The problem is, when we make it illegal to smoke cannabis, we prevent all that communication. Everyone is forced to hide drug use, which then defines the behavior as shameful.This aura of shame forces kids to lie to their parents, and parents to hide their use from their kids.
We don’t talk about smoking pot because not everyone does it, and most importantly, because it is a crime. And there have been cases of kids taught and coached by DARE programs who turn in their parents, resulting in asset forfeiture of their house, or in parents losing custody of their children.
Mommy-Daddy Government: Don't Touch
One interesting way to view our current drug policy is this: the American government is like an over-controlling parent, and the American populace is like a rebellious toddler. You can’t have these cookies, so I’m going to put them on a high shelf where you can’t reach them. So the toddler climbs up on the counter, steals the cookies, and eats them in a closet. Making the cookies taboo just makes them more enticing. A policy of total forbiddance drives the behavior underground, where it becomes clandestine, unsupervised, and infused with guilt.
We, as primates, are naturally social beings. We crave connection and community. Because we have to hide our behavior, the illegality necessitates social isolation, secrecy, and negativity where there needn’t be any. On the other hand, when we are lucky enough to find friends and family who share our predilection for cannabis, we bond with them vehemently, hiding together, happy to have a partner in crime.
Guilt exacerbates our national problematic drug use. Perhaps if we were to honor the practice, to normalize it and destigmatize it, we, like the Dutch, would find that we had less of a national drug problem. Parents know that when you make cookies less of a big deal, the desire for a steady supply of cookies wanes.
Geneen Roth, a great writer on food and appetite issues for women, has shown me that cutting out the idea of forbidden foods (and making peace with my own appetite) was the key to my weight loss. Women’s magazines have embraced the theory that restrictive diets aren’t as smart as healthy eating that occasionally honors our cravings.
Being Responsible For Our Actions
Being an adult means being responsible, understanding that there are consequences to our actions, and learning to anticipate and take ownership of those consequences when they do occur. Being treated like a child will not foster growth.
The answer for our culture, ideally, lies in cultivating a healthier approach toward altered states, and to integrate cannabis use into our lives, much as we have social drinking. Normalizing the behavior removes the adrenaline charge, subtracting the guilt and therefore the compulsion to medicate away the shame.
We must recognize and accept that we all need down time, a Sabbath. McDonald’s reminds us that we “deserve a break today.” Coca-Cola portrays itself as “the pause that refreshes.” Even the alcohol industry has a slogan that embraces moderation: “Enjoy responsibly.” Alcohol use by adults is permitted, but dangerous behaviors associated with drunkenness (such as driving while under the influence) are punished. It makes sense to treat cannabis the same way.
Time To Legalize Marijuana?
More Americans are coming to this conclusion. A Field Poll in April 2009 found 56 percent of Californians surveyed were in favor of legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes. Among likely voters on the East Coast, 48 percent endorse legalizing marijuana.
Outing ourselves as otherwise law-abiding and responsible employees and employers, parents, citizens, and, most of all, taxpayers is a good first step. Many of us are tired of being outlaws. We’d like to pay our “sin taxes” and stop hiding.
The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis
edited by Julie Holland M.D. (chapter intros written by Julie)
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Park Street Press, an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc. ©2010. www.innertraditions.com
About the Author
Julie Holland, M.D., is a psychiatrist who specializes in psychopharmacology and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine. An expert on street drugs and intoxication states, she was the attending psychiatrist in the Psych ER at Bellevue Hospital from 1996 to 2005 and regularly appears on the Today Show. She is the editor of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis and Ecstasy: The Complete Guide and the author of the bestselling Weekends at Bellevue. Visit her website at www.drholland.com.