Cannabis in the US: 'Perfectly OK to smoke a joint – but not in front of the children'

As more states legalise marijuana, critics fear that frequent parental use is a major child-protection issue

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The Independent US

Like the parent of any toddler, Jared wants to keep certain things out of reach. Alcohol is stored in a cupboard. The household cleaners are safely behind childproof locks. And the marijuana is stashed high on a shelf in a lockbox.

Evenings fall into a familiar routine. Family dinner. Baths. Then, after his daughters are snuggled in for the night, Jared slips on to the back deck of their flat and smokes a now perfectly legal bowl of weed.

“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 of Columbia who was willing to talk openly about his marijuana use. He asked that his full name not be used because he’s 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 legalising marijuana, according to polls. But it’s this question – what about the kids? – that provokes unease, even outrage, and keeps many pot-using parents uncertain about how to navigate the “new normal” of legalised marijuana.

The stakes are high. Even where the drug is legal, parental smoking 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 Services.

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 still 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, the founder of Community Thrive, a Colorado organisation that helps to facilitate such talks to prevent youth 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 Washington, said she has noticed there is already a higher incidence of children “walking around the street openly smoking marijuana and thinking it’s OK”.

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

Advocates for legalising marijuana say there are more pot-smoking parents than most people think. The Pew Research Centre reports 47 per cent of Americans have tried it.

Candace Junkin, the co-founder of the International Women’s Cannabis Coalition, is a mother-of-four and grandmother-of-three who lives in Maryland, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2014. She suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that causes excruciating shooting pains in her face. In 2002, she found marijuana eased the pain and began smoking or vaporising 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 was hurting, she would go in her bedroom, and she would come out and be better,” Ms Junkin said. None of her children, the youngest of whom is 17, smokes pot. “One 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 OK.”

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