Parents advised to talk with teens about marijuana law

Now that marijuana’s legal in Washington, parents are faced with a tough job: selling their kids on the concept of “no.”

No, marijuana’s not legal for anyone younger than 21.

And some parents may add a second message: No, it’s not allowed in our home — ever.

Many teens were excited about the recent change in state law that allows adults 21 and older to legally have up to an ounce of marijuana. They probably didn’t realize that nothing changes for them, said Dr. Leslie Walker, co-director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

It’s important to let young people know that it isn’t legal for someone younger than 21 to have even a small amount of marijuana, she said.

The law also has a zero tolerance policy for anyone younger than 21 who drives with any amount of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, in their blood. Unlike adult drivers, younger drivers must test pot-free.

The same standard applies in other ways, too.

“If they’re doing anything in sports, they can get drug tested,” she said. If they’re busted for marijuana, they can lose a college scholarship.

State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn said this week that there have been anecdotal reports from Washington school districts that indicate an increase in possession and consumption among students, especially since passage of the initiative legalizing small amounts of pot for adults.

Mary Waggoner, a spokeswoman for the Everett School District, said it’s too early to know whether student use has increased. “In another couple of months we’ll be able to track if there is more instances than at the same time last year,” she said.

In Snohomish County, about a quarter of 12th-graders reported they had used marijuana in the past month, according to a state Department of Health survey conducted in 2010, the most recent data available.

Sophomores and seniors also reported they were more likely to use marijuana than to smoke cigarettes.

Parents need to have clear rules that kids understand about drug and alcohol use, Walker said. “It’s OK to say zero tolerance; we don’t accept you using alcohol or drugs.”

Some parents feel uncomfortable adopting such household rules, she said, recalling that they didn’t follow this advice regarding marijuana when they were younger.

The strains of marijuana now available are much stronger than in the past, she said. Kids can have anxiety or panic attacks after ingesting edibles, or food infused with marijuana, she said.

There’s no way to know which kid will experiment with marijuana just one time and who will struggle with life-long dependence, Walker said.

“If they try it as adults, they’re less likely to be dependent on it,” she said.

A recent study that tracked people from age 12 to age 30 found that marijuana use can cause a decrease in intelligence, even after they stopping using it, Walker said. “People who never used actually gained IQ points as they got older.”

Students know who uses pot, she said. “They’re moving slower, talking slower. For a lot of kids, it’s the reason they end up dropping out of school. It adds to our high school dropout rates.”

When parents find marijuana in their children’s backpack, kids often respond that it’s not theirs. “No one lets someone else hold their drugs,” Walker said. “The bottom line is, if they see it, then they should try to address it.”

Rick Steves, the owner of an Edmonds travel business, was a leading proponent of the marijuana initiative. He said that one of the questions he was most asked during the campaign was the potential for legalization to cause an increase in marijuana use among teens.

Steves said he sympathizes with that concern. “I’m a parent also,” he said. But marijuana was widely available to teens even before the initiative passed, he said.

“We’ve got to find a way to take the sexiness out of it, to let kids know that some things are OK for adults and there are things you have to wait for until you’re more mature,” Steves said.

Lynn Blackmore, an intervention specialist at Cascade High School, said health teachers have been talking to students to ensure they know the age limits under the marijuana legalization law.

Blackmore said she has talked about the initiative with students who have drug and alcohol problems. Students who smoke marijuana go to dealers who break it down into $2 and $5 purchases. “It doesn’t matter what classroom, somebody’s got weed,” they told her.

As with many issues, being good role models is one of the most important things parents can do to reinforce limits on their children’s behavior, she said.

Even if parents think they are being discreet in their use of marijuana, all kids seem to go through their parents’ bedroom and find things, Blackmore said.

“I think those kids do not really want to see their parents smoking weed,” she said. “It’s a boundary. They don’t want their parents to cross that line.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Talking to kids

Tips for parents about talking to their kids about drugs are available at www.theparenttoolkit.org.

Information about marijuana, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is available at: www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana.

Information about local resources available for people using marijuana or other drugs is available through the Washington Recovery Help Line, at 866-789-1511 or www.warecoveryhelpline.org/.

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