Pubdate: Sun, 07 Jun 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Brigid Schulte


Many Uncertain About Navigating the 'New Normal'

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 potsmoking 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 

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, who made 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-at-home 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 

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 marijuana.

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." 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom