The issue of whether to legalize marijuana has been a topic of intense debate for our states and our nation for decades now.  Until recently, the majority of citizens in our state and other states have been vehemently opposed to the legalization of pot.  Gradually over time the demographics of the population have changed and many people have become accepting of pot as a recreational drug on par with alcohol—not necessarily good for you but a substance informed adults should be able to make their own decisions about.

The legal and political issues around this topic are extremely complex and those are not my areas of expertise.  As we know, marijuana is still illegal under federal law.  Colorado (and Washington State) have both passed referendums legalizing possession and use of small quantities of pot and both states are in active periods of hammering out implementation guidelines about the recent legalization. One thing that is definite is that use of marijuana, like alcohol, is illegal for minors. In that sense, nothing has changed for you as a parent of children who are minors.

How to parent around this issue is a trickier matter.  While alcohol and pot are not the same in either public perception or effect, in some ways the issues are analogous.  Think about how you parent your children around alcohol.  Some parents don’t consume alcohol on a regular basis in their homes and strongly discourage their children from using alcohol. Some families consume alcohol on a casual social basis and still strongly discourage their children from drinking until they are permitted to make their own decisions as adults.

Parents need not change their own personal parenting values around drugs and alcohol just because a substance becomes legal.  Have frank, open, non-judgmental discussions with your children about your views on recreational use of marijuana when it seems timely and age-appropriate to do so. You can acknowledge that different members of society view recreational use of pot in different ways and let them know how you see it.

Give them a clear sense of your expectations and encourage their resistance to peer pressure just as you would around any type of unhealthy behavior.  Denying or ignoring the fact of legalization or going into lengthy moral lectures about the wrongness of legalization is unlikely to be helpful in any way, but it is fine to point out that neither the majority of states nor the federal government have yet legalized the drug and that there are definite risks associated with using pot.

Ultimately, you have to decide as a parent what the consequences will be if you find out that your child is experimenting with pot, alcohol, or other drugs. If your children are on the cusp of the age of majority, you may have to decide how to deal with your adult child’s decision to perhaps use this substance now that it is legal.  These are tricky issues for families but open, honest, non-coercive communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships with your adolescent and young adult children.