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Parenting in a Marijuana-Legal State

The laws and realities of raising kids in the presence of pot.

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A spotlight has been placed on cannabis in Colorado ever since voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 64 on Nov. 6, 2012 and the first recreational marijuana shops began opening in 2014. With iterations of marijuana-like edibles, dabs, and vapes, we”re a long way from the groovy, mellow weed of the 60s and 70s. Today’s marijuana comes in many forms, flavors, and potencies. As a parent in a marijuana-legal state, educating yourself and your children about the law and limits of marijuana is crucial.

The Law – A Brief Overview

At its core, the law is simple. Marijuana is now regulated much like alcohol. Whereas before it was only available with a prescription for medicinal purposes, with the passage of Amendment 64, adults age 21 and over are now legally allowed to possess or carry as much as one ounce of retail marijuana at a time. The law also prohibits public use of marijuana, driving under the influence and bringing marijuana out of state. Basically, if you’re an adult who wants to engage, do it in your house and keep it locked up in a safe place, out of the reach of anyone under 21. Marijuana is not for teens, tweens or anyone underage, and it’s illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or partake in the use of the drug.

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Despite the law, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), about 55 percent of youth have tried marijuana before reaching the 12th grade.

Edibles are one way that some youth have tried marijuana thanks to their appeal in the form of candy bars and baked goods. Now, further regulation in regard to edibles has been implemented due to initially poor labeling and high potencies.

Because of the initial lack of regulation on the edibles market, there were several troubling incidents, a couple even resulting in death, when the recreational market initially opened. Edibles account for about 45 percent of the cannabis market and were initially created for those inthe medicinal market who needed the effects of marijuana, but didn’t want to smoke it.

Early in 2015, regulations went into effect requiring that manufacturers of marijuana edibles comply with new packaging, labeling and potency restrictions. With the new standards, all edibles must have childproof packaging, be wrapped individually and contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects — or be divided into separate serving sizes with each serving containing 10 milligrams or less. Additionally, edible labels must warn users that marijuana is illegal outside of Colorado, and that when ingested via edibles, it can take up to one or two hours to feel the effects.

The Reality – Kids and Marijuana

Given the statistic of youth being exposed to marijuana, it’s no surprise that some parents have concerns. Tia, a Boulder area mom, says that she’s noticed a perception among her teenage son and his friends that marijuana is safe and better for them than alcohol since it’s “organic” or naturally occurring rather than distilled — regardless of research indicating otherwise.

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This concern is underscored by the CDPHE finding that only half of Colorado high school students think that regularly using marijuana can be harmful. She also notes concern over the apparent easy access some kids have to marijuana since up to six plants can now be grown in any house or yard.

Kids are exposed to marijuana far earlier than you might have imagined, and early marijuana use is not beneficial to the development of their minds. According to the CDPHE, a person’s brain is not fully developed until age 25 and as such, in order for youths to reach their full cranial potential, they shouldn’t use marijuana. Additionally, CDPHE cites that those who start using marijuana regularly in their youth are more likely to become addicted than those who wait until adulthood to partake.

The Approach – Addressing Marijuana Use With Your Children

Kathleen, a Boulder-area mother of four children ranging in age from 14 to 20, says that since marijuana was legalized, her kids have seen it become much more prevalent and accessible than before. Erica, a mother of three, says that her children are also aware of marijuana as it’s literally in the air. However, both say that their children have steered clear of it so far, attributing that to the fact that they talk openly with their kids about marijuana, drugs and alcohol, and have open relationships when it comes to these things. Both women say their children are familiar with the law and understand the implications of underage usage. In addition to being detrimental to their development, they know that if ever caught with marijuana underage, it could affect their sports team involvement, academics, work schedules and/or ability to drive.

According to Holly Vause, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who teaches pediatric mental health at the University of Colorado College of Nursing and has a private practice in Denver, these women have taken the right approach. Vause advises that parents should start having open and proactive discussions about marijuana early, preferably at the start of middle school. She says that kids often fear parents will “freak out” over complicated issues like drug and alcohol use. They don’t tell their parents what is going on in order to avoid a big emotional scene or consequences. By starting talks early, knowing the law and being proactive, parents can avoid all of this, thereby protecting themselves and most importantly, their children.

The Resources – Learn More

The state of Colorado through CDPHE has set up resources to educate the public about the law and marijuana use.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been two years since the commercial sale of marijuana products officially began in Colorado. While the law is clear, the reality of parenting in a marijuana-legal state can be complex. This four-part series explores the questions, concerns, and complexities of parenting where pot is legal.,

Read Part 2 in this special series: Having the Pot Talk

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