“Hey Daddy”, my 8 year old asked from the back seat, “what’s weed?” I don’t know when I expected to have this conversation. Being realistic with myself I knew that I knew more, and had more curiosity about things in the adult world, than grown ups ever gave me credit for. This question from Olu wasn’t random. We were riding along listening to NPR while they aired a story on how the legalization of cannabis was affecting non-smokers in Colorado. I was living one of the affects of marijuana legalization right now: it is now irresponsible to simply have the “just say no” edict with your children in lieu of an in-depth conversation.
One of my problems with a lot of mature subjects being talked about with children, is that adults often times give their kids a “don’t ever do this, it’s bad” story, without ever giving any details or explanation. Sure, if you are a child the human who is twice your size, physically stronger than you, and the one you’re dependent upon for food, clothing and shelter, can tell you “do what i say”, but eventually this child grows up, and before they are out of their parents house, they are finding out that their parents didn’t tell them all the details. This damages their parent’s credibility, and makes it even more likely that children will try the exact things their parents told them not to. The child’s reasoning being, “if mom or dad didn’t tell me the whole story, what else didn’t they tell me?” The fact that nothing slips past my sons makes me proud, so I’ve always taken the attitude that if they are mature enough to ask the question, they are mature enough to have an answer.
For the record, I am staunchly against the drug war. Any and everything anyone wants to put in their bodies should be legal. I refuse to vote for any politician unless one of the planks in their platform includes ending the war on drugs. This war is racist in its origin and implementation, an affront against personal liberty, and a drain on our community’s resources. Sure, some people commit crimes while under the influence, but plenty of people don’t. One of the drawbacks of “freedom” is you actually have to wait for criminals to harm other people with their actions (murder, theft, etc.) before you can punish them. Drug use should not be used as some Minority Report-esque “pre-crime”.
“Weed is a slang term for marijuana”. I said, knowing what would be asked next. I’ve learned quickly as a father that there is no need to search for “teachable-moments”. These little humans are brand spanking new. Everything is a teachable moment. “What is marijuana?” his brother DeLa asked.
“Marijuana is a plant that has special oils in it. If you take the oils from the plant and eat or smoke them, they make your brain feel different”.
“What do you mean different?”
“It depends. It makes some people paranoid, some happy, some lazy. It depends on who the person is and what type of marijuana they are taking. Weed does something a little different to everyone”.
“What does it look like?”.
This is when I pass the baton off to Vanessa, sitting in the passenger seat. “Can you Google marijuana and show them some pictures?” Within a matter of moments they are checking out pictures of some of the greenest green on her smart phone.
“You see how many different ways it can look?”
“Yeah”, in unison.
“There are talking about it on the radio because it just became legal for people over the age of 18 to use ‘weed’ in Colorado”.
“Why can’t people under 18 use weed?”
The crucial question! This is the one that scares a lot parents. I’m especially curious as to how my generation and my community handle this question from their children. Our parent’s generation smoked as much as anyone else (and their not so coy references to it in pop culture are easily found), but their smoking didn’t blatantly permeate popular culture the way it did for us 1st and 2nd generation hip-hoppers. “I Got 5 On It” by the Luniz, “Madizms” by Channel Live, and “Hay” by Crucial Conflict were among numerous radio smash hits in the 90’s. Not to mention that almost every hip-hop album had an ode to cannabis on it that never made the radio, and Dr. Dre’s “Chronic” is arguably the most important album of the 90’s. Red and Meth, and even Dave Chappelle starred in films dedicated to the subject. At times, marijuana was so ubiquitous in my middle class black suburban neighborhood growing up that it was easy to forget it was illegal (until the police rolled up).
“Well, you know how I said weed affects people’s brains?”
“And you know that your brain is a bigger now than it was when you were 5”?
“And it’s going to be even bigger when you’re 13?”
“Well doctors pretty much agree that people with growing brains shouldn’t use marijuana because it could negatively affect it’s growth”.
“Can I use weed when I’m 19”, Olu said. “Legally, yes” I told them. If I have anything to do with it, marijuana will be legal everywhere by the time they are 19. “But most doctors say that a person’s brain doesn’t stop growing until they are 23 or older”. ”Then I’m not trying it until I’m 30. I need my brain!” DeLa said. “Yes, you definitely need your brain”, I said with a smile. “It’s a good thing that they are legalizing marijuana”, I continued “It means less people will go to jail. This country has put more people in prison than any country in the world”. “I knew that”, Olu said quickly, “that’s not good”. “Of course you did” I said, “and you’re right, our prison system is horrible”. I’m glad they are already so good at using their brains. It’s a blessing to see those little brains develop.