Comment: 4/20 Day offers chance to talk to kids about drugs

Marijuana use among youths is on the decline, showing the benefit of drug education and discussion.

By Marcel Gemme / For The Herald

Washington state became one of the first two states, along with Colorado, to legalize recreational cannabis for adult use. It has been 10 years since the first legal cannabis sales began in July of 2014. Medical cannabis in the state has been legal since 1998. Cannabis, in all its forms, has been mainstream in the state for some time now.

Needless to say, events for 4/20 Day — named for a group of California youths who gathered at 4:20 p.m. each day to smoke marijuana — are happening across the state involving retailers, cannabis enthusiasts and everyone in between. The market continues to grow. Since legalization, retail sales of adult-use cannabis in Washington state have grown every year.

Moreover, drug education remains an integral part of cannabis legislation and is still beneficial, including during 4/20 Day, primarily for children and teens. As legal cannabis becomes more and more prominent, children and teens are exposed much earlier, whether through peer groups, social media, or adults in their lives who use cannabis products.

Parents and educators can have a significant impact on the lives of young people and continue to use effective drug education to help.

According to the state Department of Health’s 2023 Healthy Use Survey, marijuana use trends among youth, grade 10 students, for example, in Snohomish County have gone up and down since 2010, but have been on the decline since 2018, reaching 6.4 percent of grade 10 students and 14.56 percent of grade 12 students who are current marijuana users, according to the Healthy Youth Survey data.

However, since legalization, adult-use cannabis trends have been slightly increasing across the state, according to the state Health Department.

There are likely many reasons attributed to why fewer youth are using marijuana, and some of them can be connected to effective drug education. Parents and educators can use practical approaches when speaking about cannabis. For instance, keep the conversations age-appropriate. Speaking with a 5-year-old is much different than speaking with a teenager. Use language and examples a child or teen would understand. Teach them about the dangers and what to avoid.

Put yourself in your kid’s shoes. This can be especially important for teenagers as they face different social pressures and situations. Please make a point of understanding what they are up against.

When speaking to them about cannabis, stay calm and relaxed, stay positive, don’t lecture, and be clear and concise about rules and boundaries.

However, it’s OK to set rules, guidelines, and expectations and create rules together as a family or class. Parents and educators can be clear about the consequences without using scare tactics or lecturing; clearly state what you expect regarding cannabis use.

Choose informal times to have conversations about cannabis, and do not make a big thing about it. Yet, continue talking to them as they age, and let them know you are always there for them. Most

Importantly, speak to them about peer pressure and talk with them about having an exit plan when they are offered marijuana. Peer pressure is powerful among youth, and having a plan to avoid drug use helps children and students make better choices.

Marcel Gemme is the founder of Substance Use Prevention Education and has been helping people struggling with substance use for over 20 years. His work focuses on a threefold approach: education, prevention and rehabilitation.

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