As marijuana legalization takes a stronghold across the United States, one of the biggest concerns some have is regarding underage use of cannabis. This week on Quora, one person asked,
"Now that marijuana is legal, how do I keep my kids from smoking it?"
While keeping cannabis out of the hands of children is undoubtedly important, before I dive into parenting tips, let's first take a look at the research, which will hopefully provide a little reassurance to wary parents.
Teen Use is on the Decline
In December of 2017, the Washington Post reported shocking statistics about teen drug use in Colorado following legalization. The survey data showed, since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado in 2014, teen drug use was lower than it had been in a decade. Another report released by the Colorado Department of Public Safety from October last year showed similar results.
More recently, in February this year, researchers published a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse showing teens in states with legal marijuana had a lower percentage of use than teens in states where it's illegal.
How on Earth is this possible? Researchers have a theory.
Cannabis is Losing Its 'Cool'
There is little question; teenagers rarely think anything their parents are doing is "cool." So, when legalization kicked in, and mom and dad started using marijuana to take the edge off, or worse... Grandma began to use it for her arthritis; kids began losing interest, viewing it as a medicinal product. In other words, the less taboo cannabis is, the less appeal it has to the rebellious teenager.
However, I think there's a more logical reason teen use is declining. Although many believe legalization increases access, legalization means regulation, which actually restricts access more.
Regulation and Compliance
When was the last time a street dealer asked to see an ID to ensure they aren't selling to minors? They don't, ever. However, in dispensaries, where compliance and regulation exist in a thin line between running a legitimate business and jail time, checking IDs is mandatory. As I stated in this article about budtender pet peeves, checking your ID is required, budtenders don't care if your 21 or 81, showing a valid form of identification is the law.
As a former budtender in Denver, this was the most critical thing we did. The first dispensary I worked for only sold to recreational customers. We asked for valid ID in the lobby, then the budtender would recheck it, and finally, when the consumer made their purchase, the cashiers would check the ID for a third time, as well as, flash it to an HD video camera above our heads. There was no way an underage person was going to purchase anything from us, and if they did, there were three people to fire.
The cannabis industry is more responsible than most people realize.
As an advocate, there's nothing I want more than to be able to say cannabis is harmless, but as a journalist and parent myself, I know the research is conflicting. While there are indeed millions of people who used marijuana as teenagers and lived to tell about it, we also understand that each person is biologically different and can respond differently. So, while one person may not experience anything negative from cannabis use as a teenager, another might.
While legalization doesn't necessarily mean your kid is going to run out and start using marijuana, let's talk about the real question here.
"How do we help reduce teen cannabis use?"
All education needs to start at home. Just as parents must take responsibility for teaching their children the dangers of alcohol, cigarettes, and unprotected sex, parents must also take responsibility for teaching their children about cannabis. This also means that parents need to understand cannabis. So, your first step starts with your own education.
Talk with your kids about what you learn, but be truthful, the old "Reefer Madness" scare tactics won't work, the internet debunked the myths years ago. In fact, I once spoke to a former youth minister who believed the "gateway drug theory" was created by the untruths told about marijuana. He said, "Once a kid tries marijuana and realizes they aren't going to lose their minds, they start to undermine the perceived dangers and warnings on other drugs."
Talk about the risks. Explain that the brain continues to develop until our early twenties and that it's best to allow the ol' gray matter to mature without any additives.
Lock Up Your Stash
I think I was around twelve the first time I snuck into my father's liquor cabinet to steal a sip of his apricot brandy or peach schnapps. I had to climb onto the counter to reach the cupboard above the refrigerator where he kept it. I absolutely knew it was wrong, but that was the thrill of it, getting by with something while my parents slept.
Likewise, if you're a cannabis-loving parent with a potentially rebellious teenager, it's your duty as a parent to keep your substances out of their reach, and if that means buying a safe or some other lockable storage container, then that's the price of protecting your child.
Honestly, parents have a much bigger issue to contemplate and should be more concerned about teen alcohol use. According to the CDC, kids between the ages of 12 and 20 drink around 11 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States, they drink more than adults when the opportunity presents itself, and around 4,300 kids die each year from excessive alcohol consumption.
Yes, cannabis use may present risks for adolescents, but death by overconsumption isn't the big concern.