Legalization 101: The Parents’ Guide Part 2

Almost all of the current public discussion around repealing the prohibition of cannabis starts from the self-blinded position that legalization will make marijuana available to kids. Many parents in states that have approved marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 years and older are finding themselves hard pressed to have meaningful conversations with their younger children and teens about marijuana’s changing legal status.

Well, the first thing that parents’ need to realize is, that is that marijuana ’a legal status hasn’t changed for those under 21 years of age and that the same principles that have been shown to help keep kids on a healthy positive developmental trajectory will still work now too.

Parents seem more confounded by the changing social landscape than kids

I sense that teens are less confused about the legal issues surrounding marijuana than they are over the mixed-messages that they are receiving between the reality of legalization as they experience it in their daily lives and the same old “scare tactic” drug prevention campaigns directed toward them to deter underage marijuana use and that vilify all drug use; make no distinction between use and misuse; offer no safety advice or how to avoid misuse. Such campaigns may be catchy public relations stunts that attract attention, but they don’t appeal to young people’s natural intelligence and do nothing to keep our children safe.

Honest conversations about marijuana with our kids are more important than ever.

Now is not the time for the half-truths, mistruths, scare tactics and exaggerations of the past.  Our kids need realistic truthful drug information about drug effects with sound advice about how to reduce the harms of use; they also need adults to model and teach the concepts of honesty, safety, responsibility and moderation in this new legalized drug landscape.

Words of Advice

Be courageous enough to tell them the truth – they’ll appreciate it. Work to educate your children so they understand that the changes in drug laws are the function of a national drug policy based on bad laws that we are working very hard to change.

Set a good example for them, communicate your desire for them to delay their age of first use as long as possible, and if your teen decides to use marijuana or drink alcohol, they should know enough to treat it as a serious decision, avoiding over-intoxication or objectionable behavior.  Below are are some marijuana conversation scenarios tat you can have with your kids.

Explain that many adult activities are inappropriate for children

There are many adult activities that are unsuitable for children. You can cite examples (e.g., driving a car, entering contracts, getting married, sex, drinking, etc.) Explain that using marijuana is one of these “adults-only” activities, and should be avoided until they are old enough to make responsible, adult decisions.

 Make a distinction between responsible use and misuse.

People use marijuana and alcohol in different ways, sometimes on an occasional basis, perhaps monthly or on weekends. People can even smoke marijuana on a daily basis and still be responsible users. The difference is that responsible users integrate their marijuana use with their other activities as a way to relax or enhance their lives.

Someone misusing any drug has a lifestyle that revolves around their use and they don’t seem to get much else done. Responsible users are people with full lives, and accept responsibility for their own decisions and actions without having to pass off blame to others. Make clear your values to your kids, i.e., you are not going to accept laziness or excuses for dropping grades — you expect them to live full and productive lives, whether they use cannabis or not. If they cannot do that, they should leave cannabis alone.

Emphasize that cannabis is not like other illegal drugs.

Adult use of marijuana has little or no negative health effects except for the irritation from its smoke. That is not true of other drugs, so emphasize that pills and powders are inherently different than plants. That is the simplest line to draw. But, they need to know that all “drugs” are not the same — they have different effects and risks. However, since we do not yet fully understand the impact of marijuana use to the developing teen brain, we recommend that teens wait as long as possible before starting to use marijuana or alcohol.

Get to the bottom line – what you want/expect. Don’t beat around the bush.

Be clear with your expectations. Remember: more powerful than any lecture is your active participation, interest, and supervision in your child’s life.

Why was it illegal and now legal?

The growing acceptance of cannabis use in our society is because voters felt that it should be legally available for adults 21 and older to use marijuana similarly to how some adults use alcohol. It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to use, especially as you start driving. As a young person, your brain is still developing, and substances like marijuana and alcohol may have a negative effect on your learning, memory, coordination and decision‑making abilities.

What about the children? Legalization can’t be good for them. We’ve been told for so long that marijuana was bad.

Rather than protecting the young and vulnerable, the war on drugs has placed them at ever greater risk – from the harms of drug use, the harms of zero-tolerance policies in schools and the risks of being caught up in the violence and chaos of the criminally controlled trade on the streets. We want a market legally regulated by responsible government authorities, combined with the redirection of enforcement spending into evidence-based health and prevention programs aimed at young people.

Parents should go slowly

Focus on having conversations with their teens – not confrontations. It’s easy to understand how parental shame, denial and guilt are common reactions to potential drug use – but parents need to work through these reactions to figure out how to best help their children to ultimately learn to make the best decisions for themselves.


Hillary failed to apologize to POC for mass incarceration. It cost her the election

Some may blame the likes of me for this country’s imminent nightmare, but I am proud to be a dyed-in-the-wool Bernie Sanders supporter. That said, once Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination I always intended to cast my vote for her.

But though I appreciated her many qualities, I was hugely disappointed by one aspect of her campaign—one that I believe cost her the election.

Issues critically important to black and brown communities jumped squarely in her lap several times, yet she failed to adequately demonstrate a commitment to them beyond lip-service and some proposals that were too little, too late. I’m talking mass incarceration, her previous complicity in it, and how to begin rebuilding the communities devastated by it.

As a Latino, I did vote for her, but I did so grudgingly. She missed a unique opportunity to galvanize support in our communities, in an election against a racist opponent in which low turnout by Democratic voters turned out to be the clincher.

Hillary’s first big chance came when Bill addressed the NACCP last year. He admitted then that the omnibus crime bill he signed in 1994 “made the problem worse.”

That notorious bill exacerbated the punitive policies built up during the Reagan era—lengthening sentences, establishing a federal “three strikes” law for violent offenses and driving up prison populations—with a hugely disproportionate impact on people of color.

Hillary advocated for that crime bill. During that period, she also employed the racially charged “super-predator” concept, saying: “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Yet since Bill’s NACCP apology speech, she has failed to fully recognize her role in exacerbating the marginalization and persecution of people of color. Nor has she presented an original cogent blueprint for social justice.

Even months later, when pressed during her primary debates with Bernie Sanders, she couched her language cautiously, saying: “There were some aspects of it that worked well, the Violence Against Women provisions have worked well, for example, but other aspects of it were a mistake and I agree.”

She needed to instead apologize unreservedly for the travesty of mass incarceration and the damage it did, to commit emphatically to dismantling the brutal system that survives by feeding generations of black and brown children into the prison-industrial complex.

Honest acknowledgements of this issue matter so much. Because the whole period between 1968 and the early 2000s represents a low point in the history of US criminal justice. Decades of oppressive policies swelled the prison population tenfold, turning incarceration into a booming, profitable industry.

An emphasis on criminal justice solutions to social problems—and an under-emphasis on health, education and other human services—resulted in the criminal justice system emerging as the predominant social institution in certain communities.

Look at some of the numbers. The State of California has built 10 penitentiaries and only one university during the last 30 years. New York State, meanwhile, spends a smaller proportion of its budget on education than anywhere else in the US. (The national average is approximately 36 percent of each state’s annual budget; New York spends less than 28 percent).

In real dollars, New York spends $56,000 per incarcerated person vs. $16,000 per student—a 3.5:1 ratio that prioritizes the criminalization of an entire generation over providing support for our children to achieve adulthood, employment and responsible citizenship.

And of course, the US has become by far the most incarcerated nation on earth, with well over 2 million people behind bars at any one time.

Hillary Clinton was not one of the main drivers of this situation—nowhere near, or I would never have voted for her. But she insulted us by playing down both the enormity of the problem and her own level of involvement.

When Black Lives Matter supporters protested against her in the summer, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise; it should have acted as a warning.

What Hillary seems not to have done is wonder what real change would look like.

Initiatives aimed at reducing the number of misdemeanor arrests, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, sentencing reforms and revamping the bail system are all welcome harbingers of progress. But criminal justice reforms are not enough! Just as ending legal slavery did not equate to black freedom, ending mass incarceration is not the same as removing the economic, social and political shackles of black and brown people.

Communities most impacted by mass incarceration are also mired in unemployment and poverty, poor-quality housing and low-performing schools. Mass incarceration disrupts social networks and relationships and limits long-term life chances. In many neighborhoods most impacted, like those managed by NYCHA, we see up to 70 percent of the community living in poverty, with unemployment rates twice the national average. There, over half of children live in single-parent homes. Eighty-five percent of adults do not have a HS diploma. Eighty-three percent of third grade students are already behind in reading, with 67 percent behind in math.

Real reform acknowledges that ending mass incarceration is necessary but not sufficient. Real reform acknowledges that white supremacy is a shape-shifter—it adapts to different times and situations, using different vehicles to exert itself. Real reform will dismantle all of the rigged systems designed to oppress people of color.

Real reform also acknowledges that we all need to heal—some from the harms inflicted upon them, others from the harms inflicted in their name. The time to start rebuilding communities most impacted by mass incarceration is now. And an apology is a good place to start.

Over these past months, my progressive friends have grown increasingly impatient with me, defensive and even hostile when I criticized Hillary despite intending to vote for her. Now, we are reeling from this bitter wake-up call. I am, too. But it didn’t have to be this way.

The city of Chicago recently apologized to the victims of torture and other abuse committed on CPD Commander Jon Burge’s watch. Its statement read: “we wish to acknowledge what happened and formally express regret for any and all shameful treatment…” and it added, “… action speaks louder than words.”

It went on to detail a list of comprehensive reparations owed to the hundreds of victims. One of them was later quoted as saying, tearfully, that the acknowledgement of what happened to him was more important than the millions in compensation the city paid.

People of color and our allies could have carried Hillary across the finish line to a sure victory. In the end, her lack of courage was her undoing.

And because of that, Michelle Alexander—author of The New Jim Crow, that defining work about race and incarceration—may have been right when she wrote earlier this year that Hillary didn’t deserve to win.

This piece originally appeared in the November 11 issue of The Influence

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