When the Government Says It’s Ok, How Do Parents Say No?

“Just say no!”

That was the rallying cry for teens in the 1980’s. Day after day, week after week, we were told how dangerous drugs were for us. In my first year of high school, a very tall and formidable police officer came into our classroom one day, carrying a large briefcase. It was filled with synthetic versions of the drugs we were most likely to encounter during our teen years. He let us hold and smell each sample, and told us in no uncertain terms that using drugs was not only stupid, it was illegal and could cost us our freedom for years to come.

I was never into the drug scene (although I will confess to some minor experimentation in my university years). I didn’t like how they made me feel, and I watched a few of my friends start to disappear into a haze of not caring about anything as they began to smoke pot more and more often.

I have kids of my own now. Four of them, all teenagers, who have been told since they started kindergarten, that doing drugs is a really bad thing in which to get involved. It is a message that has been hammered home on more than one occasion, especially as they have grown older.

But now the Canadian government has decided that selling, buying, and using pot should be legal. Sometime this summer, 29 cities across Ontario, including Ottawa, will be selling marijuana to the public.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I asked my teenagers their thoughts on making pot legal.

“It’s stupid.”

“Drugs will not help you get anything in life.”

“The government is stupid if it thinks this is going to solve the drug problem in this country.”

I asked if they felt this way only because this is what we have taught them over the years. The answer was “no”. (Coincidentally, two of the four had just finished studying the effects of drug use on the human body in their health classes at school. Neither kid thought that smoking pot was benign, and both had learned that marijuana is quite often a gateway drug to harder substances and addiction.)

I pointed out that some think that there is no difference between drinking alcohol and smoking pot; both affect your body and brain. The youngest replied, “Yeah, well you can have one drink without getting drunk. You can’t smoke one joint and not get high.”

Are parents stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue? Most of us know (or know of) at least one person who has an addiction and must fight his or her demons every day. And while the government has stated that it will still be illegal to sell marijuana to minors, how does making it legal once they are of age help our case that doing drugs is bad for you?

Being a parent is hard enough on a good day; legalizing pot sends a very mixed message to our kids. The way we parent today is not the same as we were raised, but the message that drugs aren’t the way to a healthy life stands the test of time. Even if it means opposing those who want it, I will keep telling my kids to “just say no”.