Some parents give their kids known substances rather than risk the unknown.
Experts vary on whether parents should enable their children’s experimentation with marijuana and alcohol by providing the vices.
Jen and Stan are upstanding Oakland parents who hold down full-time jobs, volunteer at their kids’ school, and pay their taxes on time. They have also given their children, ages 14 and 17, a bud or two of store-bought, certified cannabis, knowing their teens will smoke occasionally at parties. It’s not as if they want their kids to smoke weed. But they figure they’re doing it anyway, and they want to make sure what they’re smoking isn’t laced.
Max and Veronica are also good parents. They started giving their daughter vodka to bring to parties starting when she was a junior in high school. They know how that sounds. But they worried, if she dipped her cup into the punch bowl, she could be gulping down date-rape drugs or God knows what.
It’s not as if these parents, whose real names are not being used because of the illegal nature of their actions, are bad moms and dads. But in interviews, they said that they know their teens are going to partake of drugs and alcohol during high school. So, instead of simply saying “No,” they said they wanted to talk to their children about the implications of substance use and abuse.
They also want to show their children they are open to these discussions. And finally, they even, albeit slightly begrudingly, supply their children with known commodities in the hopes of preventing a fentanyl- or GHB-tainted high. To be clear: Neither of these parents have children who have substance abuse problems; they categorize their children’s behavior as “normal,” and their drug and alcohol intake is occasional to moderate. Also to be clear: These parents also wished their children were homebodies and never liked to party. But that’s not who their kids are. And so faced with real-life scenarios, these parents have chosen to supply their kids with known substances, rather than naively believe that if they say “no,” their kids will abstain.
Jen likened what they were doing to giving their children birth control. “Of course, I don’t want my teens to be having sex in high school,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t talk to them about the pros and the cons and make sure they have a rubber.”
Three experts had varied opinions on what these parents are doing.
One substance abuse counselor at an Oakland drug addiction center, who asked not to be identified, simply said, “No,” when asked if parents should supply their children with vices. “I think it’s a horrible idea,” he said. “And I wouldn’t equate rubbers with drugs at all.”
For this counselor, the best course of action a parent can take is deny and educate. He said he fears that early drug experimentation could lead to early drug abuse.
Ralph Cantor, an East Bay marijuana educator, also didn’t like the idea of supplying children with illegal substances — at first. He certainly didn’t think it was a good idea to hand someone younger than 16 drugs or alcohol. Cantor said that these substances can really mess with a young person’s brain, which isn’t fully formed until a person is 25. While children’s brains are still “under construction,” Cantor said they need to take extra special care of their bodies and brains and avoid using marijuana during this time. Waiting is best, he said, for these scientific reasons.
But Cantor then acknowledged that not every kid is going to wait. And he is a big proponent of harm reduction. In fact, he said in his opinion, smoking weed is better than alcohol. And giving them good weed is better than having them smoke bad weed, or really strong weed. “Alcohol and teens are a really horrible mix,” Cantor said.
Cantor said he understands that some parents see that their teens are already smoking and that forbidding them and thinking they’ll listen is simply head-in-the-sand parenting. “I see that these parents are making a choice to supply their children with reliable stuff,” he said. “And that this is a form of harm reduction.”
Stan, the parent, said that’s exactly why he gives his older daughter cannabis. “My stuff is really weak,” he said. “So I know exactly what she’s smoking.” Stan also has had several scientific talks with both of his children, explaining how cannabis can alter the mind and that its use should be used in moderation — no more than two hits — and that edibles can be very dangerous because of how long they take to work.
Cantor said he realizes these rules are not hard and fast. “You’ve got to have discussions, lots of discussions,” he said.
Mikki Norris, the director of the East Bay-based Cannabis Consumers Campaign, also wasn’t sure about supplying underage teens with marijuana.
“I just don’t know,” she said.
But after she and her husband, Chris Conrad, a teacher at Oaksterdam and courtroom cannabis expert, thought about it, they both saw that by actively engaging in talks with, and possibly supplying, children with marijuana, the “forbidden fruit” factor would be lessened, if not eradicated.
Conrad said the upside to providing these substances is that the parent gets to make sure it’s clean and not laced with harmful material and that it could lead to conversations about staying safe and not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
He did warn, however, that supplying anyone younger than 21 with illegal substances is a crime and parents should know that and beware of the consequences.
No matter what parents decide, Norris added, it is important that parents and their children engage and talk about the subject.
“Bottom line,” Norris said. “You have to have a good open relationship with your kid.”
This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.