Parenting on Pot

If weed is the new wine, is it acceptable to use in front of your kids?

Illustrations: Haleigh Mun

OOne of Jenn Lauder’s favorite family traditions is movie night with her husband and 11-year-old daughter. One week it’s The Princess Bride, another evening it’s whatever’s on Netflix. Before she hits play, she heads to the kitchen where she nibbles on some cannabis-infused nut butter, or she’ll take a quick hit on a concentrate pen — her current go-to is Pineapple Jager, a CBD-rich strain. “You want anything?” she asks her husband.

Back in the living room, she sinks into the couch, waiting for the moment when the cannabinoids hit her bloodstream and her “always on” brain finally slows down. “It helps me focus on what I’m doing in the moment,” she says. “[I’m able] to be really aware and connected to the people I’m with.” Her daughter knows the smell of “mommy’s medicine” — and that it’s not for her. “We’re as clear [with her] as people with a bottle of wine,” says Lauder. “Cannabis is for grown-ups, unless there’s a child with an extenuating medical need.” As a resident of Oregon, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2014, Lauder says that cannabis cookouts are as common as wine clubs.

“I don’t wake up and think of myself as a cannamom — I just want to live my life and enjoy edibles at the end of the day.”

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Recreational cannabis started to become available in the United States in January 2014. Today, 33 states plus Washington, D.C. allow medical marijuana, and 11 states now authorize its recreational use.

Now one in five users are parents and 63% of them use daily, according to a survey by cannabis delivery startup Eaze. Reasons people use marijuana vary from relaxation to pain relief to wellness, with parents being 52% more likely than other adults to replace booze with weed. And they’re often upfront about it, with 47% saying they discuss their cannabis use with their kids.

“I’m a parent and a writer and a lover and I happen to like marijuana too,” says Lauder. “It’s not an identity. I don’t wake up and think of myself as a cannamom — I just want to live my life and enjoy edibles at the end of the day.”

InIn a private location in Los Angeles, a number of Lycra-clad men and women gather in a circle around Dee Dussalt, the 39-year-old founder of an adult-only cannabis workout called Ganga yoga. Attendees kneel on colorful Mexican blankets and yoga mats as edibles and joints are passed around. Dussalt leads them through introductions, and everyone shares what brought them there. Many are parents, hoping to de-stress from their daily grind, and it’s not uncommon for people to bring their adult children to the class. “Moms are coming out of the green closet,” Dussalt says. “They say, ‘cannabis makes me a better parent.’”

For Dussalt, her change in perspective started at home. Growing up, she never discussed cannabis with her family, and it took her years to realize her mom smoked every day. “She hid it from me because of the Reagan-area prohibition,” Dussalt says. When Dussalt opened up to her mom about her own usage — and, eventually, her weed-themed business — -her mom was shocked. But she quickly adjusted. “[Now] we roll one up every time we hang out,” Dussalt says.

Ganga Yoga launched in 2009, and though she had traction from the very beginning, Dussalt says there was a major shift in her demographics in 2018 — when recreational cannabis became legal in California. “People who were fearful to come because of the law, and especially those that have children, now don’t have to worry,” she says. “Parenting is the last frontier.”

That’s especially true in states where cannabis usage falls into a gray area. Even though it’s medically issued in 33 states, cannabis is still federally illegal, and some parents are extra wary because of that.

In New Jersey, which legalized medical cannabis in 2010, this issue is constantly on Jessie Gill’s mind. After a long day, the single mom of two often kicks back with a pot brownie — her medical marijuana prescription is for a painful spinal injury. Initially, she was reluctant to use cannabis for pain, but after exhausting opioids, she was out of choices. And it helped so much. But she kept wondering, should she tell her kids? Just because it was legal didn’t mean the stigma had vanished, and she didn’t want them to get the wrong idea. “What if the kids [at school] learn about this and think it’s illegal, and call the cops?” she says. “I didn’t want them to feel scared.”

After she told her children, her son argued with friends about it: He said it was his mom’s medicine, but the anti-drug propaganda said differently. Concerned about the misinformation out there, Gill launched her blog, marijuana mommy, to debunk the myths. “I would prefer my kids to use cannabis [than] alcohol,” she says. “When they’re legal, of course.”

Having “The Talk”

Helping parents talk to their kids about cannabis — including their own use — is a big part of Sasha Simon’s job at the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. “There’s been a lot of confusion societally, not just for children,” she says. “Most people have some type of drug in their life — alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine. Parents are open to more cannabis knowledge.” For the past year, Simon has managed a pilot curriculum in two high schools. “The idea is to model it after sex ed,” she says. “We know abstinence doesn’t stop sex, and [the same goes with drugs]. The majority try it before high school and the goal is to make sure they have realistic information and skills.”

Simon isn’t advocating that teens use drugs, she stresses, but that they understand them. “Adults don’t have this education either,” she says. A lot of parents ask her for information since there was no such thing as medical or recreational marijuana when they were in school.

One aspect that’s not emphasized enough is the language used, Simon says. Instead of using the term “substance abuse,” Simon recommends trying “substance misuse” or “problematic use.” She prefers the term “drug user” to “addict”; it avoids triggering people.

Simon also says that kids understand more than they get credit for, including that the consequences for people of color who use cannabis are harsher. The new syllabus from the Drug Policy Alliance fits in with common core standards and is designed to be implemented by current staff; research shows this has a bigger influence than bringing in outside instructors like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) does. “The current curriculum [taught in U.S. schools[ has not changed in 20 years, it’s bonkers,” she says. “And it’s dangerous what they teach now — that cannabis is the same as heroin.”

Providing parents with better guidelines for using cannabis at home is one of the reasons Jenn Lauder and her husband co-founded the pot and parenting website Splimm. Prior to moving to Portland, Lauder worked as an elementary school teacher in Baltimore and volunteered with her local chapter of NORML, a group hoping to shift public opinion in order to legalize responsible marijuana use. But Lauder waited until she’d moved west before launching her website or speaking publicly about her cannabis lifestyle. “I felt that if I was going to be public, I wanted some protection under the law,” she says.

Oregon is far friendlier to marijuana than Maryland, but the threat of child protective services taking away your kids is a common refrain amongst pot parents. Just Google custody and cannabis use, if you want the horror stories. Now that Lauder is living in Oregon, most of that fear has dissipated. Many of the moms at her kids’ school use cannabis. But even in Portland, there’s discord. “At school, some moms, drinks in hand, were gossiping about a mom who’s a cannabis user,” she tells me. “In a state where it’s legal.”

Different parents, different strokes. But going by Instagram, there’s a new generation of cannamoms. These (mostly) millennial women deal in cutesy weed memes and mantras, from “give your mom some weed” to “a bowl a day keeps the mommy from going bat shit crazy.” Then there are the endless accessories: pink and gold marijuana mama trays, Etsy stash cans engraved with “mom’s medicine”, and T-shirts that tell you the wearer can “be a good mom & smoke a little.” These moms (dads too, but there are less of them on social media) keep their feeds full of images of their carefully curated lives, complete with perfectly placed weed accents. They go to cannamommy-themed spa days and canna-kid friendly music festivals.

In Washington state, cannabis user Katrina Transue finds this #cannamama lifestyle a little offensive. She shares one meme of the slogan “weed mom is the new wine mom” on a black and pink floral canvas. “It’s so feminine and Laura Ashley-esque… we’ll just ignore how many moms are serving time for the same thing,” she says.

In 2012, Transue disclosed her cannabis usage with her then-nine-year-old daughter during a family camping trip in Colorado. As they drove, she told her about its medicinal properties and complicated legal history. “I was raised anti-anything, and had a lot of unlearning to do,” Transue says. “I wanted to approach it from a demystifying perspective.” Recreational weed had just become legal in Colorado, and the road was lined with billboards promoting new cannabis dispensaries. She followed one of the signs to a store and purchased a small amount. That night, she smoked by their campfire and “got giggly.”

“The lesson was learned,” she says. “It became a non-issue.” No different from her having a glass of wine.

As a white woman in a state where marijuana use is legal, Transue knows she has a privilege others lack, which is precisely why the Etsy aesthetic of the stoner mom infuriates her. She knows people in non-legal states who’ve been refused pain meds or jobs because they tested positive for cannabis. “There’s a lot more work to do for everyone else,” she says.

Dussalt, the founder of Ganga Yoga, says she always tells clients that although it’s natural and now legal in many places, cannabis isn’t the cure-all for every life woe. But it can be a helpful addition to the parenting tool set. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and with each year it’s less titillating,” she says. “Ten years ago cannabis was radical, and now it’s almost normal. When moms are doing it, it [stops being] subversive.”

Tech+Culture f/lance journo. Bylines: OneZero, Marker, Atlantic, Forbes, etc. Pre-order: The Future of Science Is Female

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