Kids and pot; a controversial topic if there ever was one, with many pot advocates buying into the prohibitionists’ idea that it’s always bad for children to use marijuana.
“Protecting kids from drugs” is the mantra of justification for prohibitionists who want adults thrown in jail for using cannabis. But it isn’t just anti-potties who decry underage cannabis use. For example, at a marijuana rally, three high school kids came up and asked me if I would smoke with them. I did and found them to be witty, savvy, fun people. When I returned to the activist’s booth I’d been at, however, one of the powerhouses of the marijuana movement told me I was immoral for smoking with the kids.
“We believe it’s wrong for kids to get high,” I was told. “You’re setting a bad example.”
I was surprised that a person who publicly states that the cannabis plant is a healing herb with medicinal, spiritual and industrial uses would so vehemently oppose its use by young people. I realized then that it would be helpful to discuss kids and pot, and to solicit a dialogue on the subject between this magazine and its readers.
We want to hear what you have to say about the issue, and I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned as a marijuana writer and researcher.
In future articles you’ll read about high school students who got tired of drug dogs and strip searches and stood up to their oppressors, and a tribe of pot-smoking pygmies with kids who smoke African weed while running through jungles and climbing trees. You’ll think about dilemmas faced by parents, whose love for herb is complicated by prohibition and love for their children.
In the world of enlightened cannabis use, there are no pot crimes, but there are choices. Should kids get high? What happens to them when they do? Why do they use pot? What should parents and society do about it, if anything? Let’s answer these questions together.
Communication and experimentation
I was at an Oregon farmer’s home photographing his grow room. His ten-year- old son, Jeremy, was cooking dinner, some kind of Thai recipe, with coconut milk, lemon grass, and cannabis leaves.
It smelled wonderful, but I was wondering if Jeremy was going to partake of what I assumed would be a psychoactive supper. I saw him tong a fat Indica leaf from the soup and pop it in his mouth, which pretty much answered my unspoken question: he used pot.
At dinner, I questioned Jeremy and his dad about marijuana use as I greedily slurped down the delicious soup.
Jeremy’s father John told me that Jeremy had asked him two years ago about the plants in the garage, about the wacky tobaccy dad smoked after a day on the tractor.
“It was obvious the boy wanted to try some,” said John, a single father who’d raised Jeremy since age 7 when the boy’s mother was killed in a car wreck.
“I told him, ‘Go ahead,’ but it’s strong stuff and you best not smoke up all my stash,” John reported.
Jeremy, a vivacious and unusually intelligent kid who hummed John Lennon songs as he cooked ganja, told me he first inhaled marijuana several months after his dad granted permission. Attempting to imitate his father, he rolled a joint, which fell apart due to clumsy rolling technique.
Frustrated, the boy procured a corncob pipe, packed it with a smidgen of dad’s stash, and lit up. He coughed, and dropped the pipe.
?”I didn’t feel it,” he said. “In fourth grade, I smoked a [tobacco]cigarette and got dizzy and threw up. Dad’s weed just made me cough.”
Unimpressed by marijuana, Jeremy didn’t try to smoke it again. The boy’s a voracious reader, however, and after examining a book about eating cannabis, he began putting leaves in recipes and on salads.
“He kind of succeeded with the brownie mix,” his dad said. “It tasted bad and had a bunch of stems, but the stuff was potent.”
Jeremy doesn’t remember how many brownies he ate, but he definitely remembers how they made him feel.
“I was laughing until it hurt, like when Dad tickles me,” he recalled. “The music was really cool. Everything looked like it was in a movie. I fell asleep and dreamed I was flying.”
Father and son talked about the experience later.
“Basically, I told him that he shouldn’t be tripping out on a regular basis,” John said. “It was even strong for me. I didn’t want him doing it off of our property, at school, or at the river. And I didn’t want him giving any to anybody or telling anybody what he was doing. As a single dad, I have to worry about what other people think about how I raise my son. The last thing I need is for them to think I’m letting him get stoned.”
Jeremy was ok with his father’s warnings. He said he considers himself lucky to have a “fun dad” who’s honest and open-minded.
“I play baseball, softball and soccer,” he said. “The brownies slowed me down for a few days. I kept striking out. I felt good, but I felt goofy. I’m going to eat less next time. I’m not going to make them very often.”
When I pointed out that he’d put pot leaves in the night’s meal, he responded that he didn’t get high from those types of food-pot recipes. I agreed that I wasn’t high on his delicious Thai-ganja food.
“It’s just like putting oregano and other herbs in,” he explained, adding that he learned to cook after his mother died. “I just crumble a few in, mainly because they’re?lying around. I like the taste.”
John said his son appears to have suffered no ill effects from his marijuana experimentation.
“He doesn’t smoke it, and as far as I know, he hasn’t done the brownies again,” John said. “He’s in the GATE [Gifted and Talented] program at school, plays musical instruments, is athletic, reads a lot, hates television, has a lot of friends. He’s a popular, happy kid, even though we lost mama. I can’t see how pot’s hurt him at all. If I had told him he couldn’t do it, or tried to hide that I did it, that would have hurt him more. This is the best way of dealing with it.”
With my photo session done, I packed my cameras and asked Jeremy if he had any opinions about cannabis prohibition.
“The DARE officers suck,” he said. “Some little kid in second grade snitched on her parents so they took her away to some fake parents and put her real parents in a jail. The health nurse lies to us about weed. I was going to raise my hand and call her a liar, but I remembered what Dad said. I can’t say anything because they’ll put him in jail. I think it is dumb for them to want to hurt my dad or anybody who likes weed. We grow corn and wheat and weed; other farmers grow tobacco that kills people but dad says the government hands them money. I don’t believe in this country or in the police. They should leave us alone.”
Troubled teen tokers
Jeremy and his father seem to have found a way to integrate truth and marijuana into their lives with no ill effects, but the same cannot be said for Giselle and Laurent Menola, a Canadian couple raising three teenage daughters in a large Eastern Canadian city.
Until approximately four years ago, the Menolas thought they had handled the marijuana “problem” with honesty and positive effectiveness.
Both of them used marijuana extensively during their college years and during the first decade of their marriage. As they grew older and their lifestyle changed, they began titrating their usage. Further, Laurent is a school teacher who worries that marijuana use might affect his job security. By the early 1990’s, the couple used marijuana an average of three times per month.
“We didn’t try to hide it from our daughters,” Laurent explained, referring to their three children, ages 13, 17 and 19. “We liked the European model of childrearing, in which you treat children as adults and expect them to behave responsibly. We didn’t want to hide things from them.”
Giselle explained that her oldest daughter, Michelle, began experimenting with marijuana at age 14.
“I’m sure it came to her through the school,” Giselle said. “She told us about it right away, just like she told us when she started to become active sexually. Laurent and I wondered what to do about it. It was very hard for us, because we didn’t want to be hypocrites, but we wanted her to be aware of the dangers.”
Laurent says he has since agonized about his choice to be open about his own marijuana use.
“That’s what you worry about, that you do something in front of them and they think it’s ok for them,” he said. “The same goes with nudity or sexuality. It’s hard for them to understand why it’s ok for mom and dad but not for them.”
The marijuana issue first became important for the family when school authorities told the Menolas that Michelle and her sister Genevieve were part of a group of kids who excessively used marijuana.
“They were skipping classes and their grades were dropping,” Giselle said. “I asked them and they said they preferred getting high to studying and participating in other activities. We were disappointed, but we love our daughters. We didn’t think of punishing them for this experimentation. We were also grateful that they had chosen pot instead of alcohol or cigarettes.”
The Menolas told their daughters to decrease their marijuana use, and that they would prefer it be used and kept at home. Laurent said his main concern was that the girls not begin leading secret lives, telling lies, hanging out with “dopehead losers.”
“We had a mixed message,” he said. “We tell them that pot is apparently not helping them do what they need to do in life right now, but that if they are going to use it, we want to know about it and help them keep harm to a minimum. At all costs, we wanted to keep the lines of communication open, to build on the trust we have always had as a family.”
The family’s trust has been severely tested by developments in the two oldest daughter’s lives. While 13-year-old Lisa is a top-performing student and athlete who does everything to please her parents, the two oldest girls have be-come sexually active, lack-luster students, and somewhat disrespectful of their parents.
Michelle is dating a ski bum who abused her and angered her parents; Genevieve is “sleeping around,” getting drunk and stoned, and failing in school. Family friends recommended counseling, punitive disciplinary actions, even calling the police. The Menolas were confused and heartbroken.
“You can spend a lot of money on counselors and youth programs,” Laurent said, “and most of them are a waste of time. They treat the kids and parents like dummies. It’s like brainwashing, and it costs a mint. I knew that my daughters were not going to straighten up because somebody tried to force them to.”
His wife lamented that “we gave them everything that good parents give their children, and we can’t understand why they have chosen to be losers.”
“This is a family that has traveled to Europe and the Far East together,” she explained. “We have always put our girls first. They have led interesting lives. They have parents who love them and believe in them. They have such talent and beauty. We don’t understand why they feel a need to get drunk and stoned and have casual sex with boys who don’t love them. We feel like we’ve failed, but we don’t know what we could have done differently.”
After hearing so much about them, I finally met the three Menola daughters. They were, as their father had described them, beautiful young women. All were bilingual, had good teeth, and appeared to be coddled members of the upper class.
Lisa was quiet, studious, tall and pleasant. When I asked her why she too didn’t use marijuana, she replied, “I see what it does to my parents and my sisters. I’m not saying I’ll never do it later on, but I intend to go to medical school, so right now I need to concentrate on my schoolwork and the next track meet. I don’t drink or smoke either, although a lot of kids do it.”
What I noticed most about Michelle and Genevieve was that they lacked insight and introspection, especially in regards to their marijuana use and sexuality.
They said they used marijuana because their friends used it, and because it was fun, but they could not give me even one adjective or specific detail of what they found fun about it. They had not noticed if being stoned enhanced their enjoyment of music, nature, food, sex or anything else- they’d never even thought about it; they were totally unreflective and unintentional.
“I know I’m hurting my parents,” admitted Genevieve, telling of how her parents have spent lots of money so that she and her sisters could live in France and England during the summer. “I know I’ve let them down. I cough all the time and have colds a lot. I guess I should smoke less, but it’s a ritual thing for us to go out at lunch to the park and bong up. After school, it’s fun to hang out and get high and play video games. I’d miss that.”
Michelle denied that marijuana was causing any problems for her.
“I don’t like the school,” she said. “I’m bored. I could walk away from pot anytime if I had to. I see no reason to give it up.”
Neither girl expressed any political or idealistic orientation toward marijuana. For them, marijuana was no more meaningful than television, music, shopping, boys. They see nothing sacred about it, and are deliberately unaware of its immediate and long-term effects, as well as the ramifications of the drug war.
They know people who grow and sell it; as much high quality bud as they can smoke is given to them by older guys who are, as Michelle admitted with a smile, “trying to get a little pussy.”
The Menolas have recently been forced to deal more seriously with their daughter’s marijuana use. Michelle and Genevieve, along with two school chums, were caught with marijuana while crossing the international border into upstate New York. Drug dogs alerted officials, who strip-searched the girls and held them until their parents arrived.
I spoke with Laurent a month after the incident, and he was still angry ? at his daughters.
“They’re screwing up our lives,” he said. “Now we have to completely change our summer plans because of court dates and urine testing. I just want to get them out of town, away from their stupid peer group. I have to get them to see that although there’s nothing wrong with marijuana in and of itself, it isn’t working for them, and they are going to have to wean themselves off of it and move on until they’ve completed college and stabilized themselves emotionally, financially and physically.”
Laurent and Giselle seem at a loss about what to do to help their daughters, but they are thankful that their youngest daughter, at least, knows about pot and seems totally disinclined to use it.
I couldn’t think of any useful advice for them; all I offered was sympathy and prayer. Michelle is hard-headed, mad at the cops, and unwilling to change. Genevieve told me she is “depressed all the time,” but will not quit smoking pot.
“I know it isn’t the plant’s fault,” she told me, with tears in her eyes. “There are stoner kids at school who are totally happy and cool, making A’s, have lots of hobbies, do sports stuff, and their parents don’t care if they do bud as long as they keep their shit together. They have a pot club that does stuff to legalize it. I know marijuana isn’t my problem. I’m my problem.”