Opinion: This PTA mom says let’s be realistic about marijuana — legalize it

I’m a mom of three, a PTA president, and I’m in favor of cannabis legalization.

When I was a sophomore at a small liberal arts college in Vermont, I devoured books on world religions while knitting wool hats and changing the litter box for the pot-bellied pig that I co-owned briefly with my roommate and two friends. I was a turn-of-the-century hippie, and although I abhor stereotypes, some of them you might conjure up were spot on. (Yes, I smoked pot.)

I still hold on to a few crumbs of that persona I developed at age 19; recently, I matched a tie-dye sweatshirt with a pair of dark jeans before heading out the door. The sweatshirt is less Jerry Garcia and more TJ Maxx treasure, but I still waffle between which of those two I think is (or was) coolest. Even so, it wasn’t until recently that I started believing strongly in cannabis legalization.

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As the elementary school PTA president, I attend a monthly safety coalition meeting with other people in my small Massachusetts town who are concerned about our children’s safety. We learn a lot during those meetings: Last year, a police officer elicited gasps from the audience when he mentioned that middle and high school kids in our town are now snorting heroin, which they can buy easily for around $5 a bag.

Another month, a parenting expert talked about how there’s no way to simply forbid our children from using cellphones, even though the phones can be used for things like bullying or sexting: Kids will find a way to use technology no matter what we do. Instead, this expert counsels parents on developing strategies for teaching limits and encouraging responsibility. This is great advice, but I wish it were being employed for more than just cellphone usage.

I get it: You can’t put a bunch of school administrators, police officers and parents in a room and strategize about how to get kids to use illegal drugs responsibly. But as a parent, I can do that.

By the time my kids make it to middle school, I want recreational cannabis to be legal, regulated and easier to buy than the alternative, which might be sinister bags of heroin or highly addictive prescription drugs. Legal cannabis doesn’t contain dangerous additives or require sketchy purchasing strategies the way that illegal, unregulated pot might.

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I don’t think legalization will propel kids on to harder drugs that remain illegal. In any case, if it’s the thrill of illegal consumption my kids are after, they’d be in luck: It would remain illegal for my children to buy, possess, or consume cannabis while underage (assuming any laws adopted in Massachusetts mimic those in other places such as Colorado, the District of Columbia and Oregon). Regardless, kids have a knack for finding a way around the rules, whether state law or domestic decree.

This morning, I would not allow my 8-year old daughter take a piece of Halloween candy to school for her morning snack. She begged me: All the other kids were showing up at school with candy, and she knows they aren’t supposed to, but couldn’t she do it, too, please? I repeated my no firmly and closed the pantry door on her bucket of Halloween loot.

Ten minutes later, I kissed my kids goodbye, waved them off the front step and sent them on their way to school. They made it 30 feet down the sidewalk before my daughter pulled a mini Twix out of her sleeve and stuffed it into her backpack. (Guess who’s not getting candy tonight with the others?)

When I was 13, my mom begged me not to smoke cigarettes. “I’d rather you smoke pot,” she told me one night after I’d been out with my friends. She picked up my hands and smelled them to find out whether I’d already tried.

“Cigarettes smell bad. And they’re highly addictive,” she said woefully, speaking from experience. It was one of few comments she made on the subject that I ever took to heart, and though I didn’t always follow her advice, she made me think twice about what I was doing.

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I am not planning to actively promote illegal substance use in my family, but I will teach my children about being responsible by having open conversations with them, like my father did with me: He recognized that I was making choices and living my life, with a hoard of details to which he was not always privy. (Thanks again, Dad.)

Here’s the scene, similar to one from my own youth: My daughter reaches middle school. (And later, my two sons do, too.) I take her out for a monthly Mom-and-me dinner date. She orders whatever she wants off the menu, even if it’s just mashed potatoes with copious amounts of butter and (gasp!) a glass of soda (her current interpretation of heaven . . . whatever). Then I ask her what’s really going on in her peer group. What drugs are people doing and where do they buy them? Are people smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, and (when the time comes) are they driving while they do these things? Do people she knows have sex and, if so, are they using protection? What do they do with their cellphones besides make phone calls? Do other kids’ parents know all this, too?

I’ll tell my daughter she doesn’t have to name names or tell me what she does herself — this won’t be about stopping behavior or punishing anyone — I just want her to feel like she can call me in the middle of the night to ask for help if anyone she knows she is in trouble. I will acknowledge that there’s stuff going on that I don’t yet know about and that just because I don’t know doesn’t mean it isn’t important to me. In this way, I will help my kids talk things through so that they can make smart decisions.

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I don’t actually want my children trying drugs. I don’t want their judgment to be impaired or their perception of social situations clouded in an already tumultuous phase of life. But kids experiment regardless of parental edict, because that is how they learn. Sometimes, they do it over and over until the learning happens for them.

And if my kids decide to do this with illegal drugs the way that I sometimes did, I hope that they make the choice to go organic and reach for the gentler, fuzzier green stuff. If and when that happens, I am confident that with my kids at the helm and me as their guide, their lives will not simply go up in smoke.

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