Washington’s new marijuana law: What parents of teens need to know


By Lara Okoloko

If you are a parent of a teenager, the topic of marijuana may be on your mind this month with the passage of Initiative Measure No. 502, which will regulate marijuana production, distribution and possession.

Passing with the approval of 55 percent of voters, the law will go into effect on Dec. 6. The bill was co-sponsored by Edmonds’ own travel guru Rick Steves and supported by 54.49 percent of Snohomish County voters.

While the legalization of marijuana has left many jubilant, parents of teenagers may be feeling speechless. If you have already heard your teen try to explain that marijuana is harmless because it is “natural” and “not addictive,” then surely they have now added “and it’s legal!” to their list of arguments.

And parents may not be the only ones concerned about the impact of legalizing marijuana, says Edmonds School District Drug and Alcohol Intervention Specialist Coquille Knutsen. “Surprisingly, students are concerned about it. I have heard students say that they think they will see more kids willing to try it now that it is legal,” she says.

According to a national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 40 percent of high school students have smoked marijuana in their lifetime and almost a quarter of high schoolers use it regularly. This makes it the second most used substance behind alcohol, with 70 percent of high schoolers having tried drinking alcohol and one fifth of high school students having “binge drank” within the last month.

If you are no stranger to a joint, you may feel sheepish about telling your kids not to smoke. Your own college pot-smoking days need not interfere with clear rules for your teenager at home. Feel confident that there are real reasons to help your teenager postpone or avoid marijuana use while their brain is still developing. However, if you are tempted to pick up an old habit now that it will be legal, remember that you are your children’s’ most influential role model. “If kids see parents doing it, they are leading by example,” reminds Knutsen. “Parents need to talk to their kids about drug use even if their kids are talking back or arguing, talking back is a normal development stage for teenagers.” The message parents should be sending is simple shares Knutsen, “Our family does not believe in this and there will be consequences if you use.”

The age at which a person begins using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs affects their risk of becoming addicted to those substances, another reason to set firm expectations with your teen that they abstain from drug and alcohol use before adulthood. According to a national survey of drug use and health, people who first use alcohol before age 15 are more than five times as likely to abuse alcohol as an adult than those who first used alcohol at age 21.

The most important thing to know about the passage of Initiative Measure 502 is that it is still illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to grow, sell or possess marijuana and it will be illegal or anyone who has a license to sell marijuana to sell it to anyone under the age of 21.

Also important is that the law establishes a THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) blood concentration limit for drivers. Because the limit for drivers under the age of 21 will be zero, any youth who is pulled over and tested for THC can be arrested for DUI if they have any THC in their bodies. In general, THC can be detected in the body for a couple of days in infrequent smokers, up to a week in people who smoke regularly and over a month for people with heavy use. Blood concentration is a different method of measurement with a shorter detection window. However, it is possible for THC to be detected by blood test over a week after last use.

It is still not known what the federal government’s response will be to the change in Washington State law. Marijuana is still illegal according to federal law. Public Information officer Sgt. Mike Blackburn of the Edmonds Police Department says that local law enforcement agencies will be looking to the State Attorney General for guidance on this discrepancy in the laws. “The feds could file a court action challenging the legality of the state initiative,” explains Blackburn, “If the initiative stands, parents will need to discuss with their children what constitutes lawful, responsible use, much like the subject of alcohol.”

If anything, the vote for legalization of marijuana presents an opportunity for parents to speak to their teens about marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. Parents are a bigger influence on their children than they think, so share your values about drug use and your expectation that your kids will not use drugs or alcohol while they are living at home. They are listening even if they are rolling their eyes.

Lara Okoloko, MSW is the co-founder and clinical director of Center for Advanced Recovery Solutions (CARES). CARES provides respectful, solution focused counseling to the families of addicted young people. More about their services can be found at www.caresnw.com


  1. Thank you for the advice for parents about marijuana. Many parents underestimate their influence on their children.
    The affect on a young brain and drugs being more available are major concerns. Please remind children and teens that something being legal does not necessarily mean it’s right.


  2. If I understand the article, someone under 21 with a blood alcohol under .08 while violating the law will not be prosecuted for a DUI. Not a lot of time needs to pass after drinking to have the reading fall below .08. The new MJ law, with zero as the measure, would make trigger a DUI several days or longer after use. This is a much stiffer measurement than for alcohol. Both MJ and alcohol are used by teen agers but the standard for DUI is much stricker for MJ. Not sure what happens to a college student today with a DUI as far as scholarships but it looks like it will be more dangerous in the future for MJ use for a college student under 21.


  3. Now that Washington leads the Nation in legalization and one of our own citizens helped lead the fight. I wonder if Edmonds might lead the state in educating our student population about the hazards and consequences. Maybe Rick Steves would like to help with yet another important campaign.


  4. Knowing what the Feds can do to people who become involved in the marijuana growing and selling trade, I think I’d be hesitant to be a “start up” company. If you grow marijuana in your house or on your property, they can seize it and send you to live in prison. Try to be legal and report everything on your taxes and have all of the licenses required by the State will just be giving the Feds a roadmap to your house.

    I could see the Feds letting the State get all set up and running and then letting all of the growers and dealers get running. Then when they think that there is enough going to make a statement, I could see a Federal Search Warrant for the State’s records. Then all of the people in those records would then be at risk of having search warrants served at their places of business. There won’t be much investigation needed by the Feds because everyone is just going to voluntarily give up their locations and identities to the State for licenses.

    Just some information to ponder.


  5. This is an excellent opportunity to talk to our kids about the future consequences of possible actions, and prepare them. Alcohol is legal and my daughter isn’t a drunk. I expect that I can communicate with her about marijuana use with equal discretion. This law doesn’t deregulate marijuana use, it decriminalizes it for adults in possession of small amounts. It’s the voice of a majority of the people of Washington state – which is a great opportunity to teach my daughter about state initiatives and how things become law.


  6. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science
    Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife

    Madeline H. Meiera, et. al.,

    Edited by Michael I. Posner, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, and approved July 30, 2012 (received for review April 23, 2012)


    Recent reports show that fewer adolescents believe that regular cannabis use is harmful to health. Concomitantly, adolescents are initiating cannabis use at younger ages, and more adolescents are using cannabis on a daily basis. The purpose of the present study was to test the association between persistent cannabis use and neuropsychological decline and determine whether decline is concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Participants were members of the Dunedin Study, a prospective study of a birth cohort of 1,037 individuals followed from birth (1972/1973) to age 38 y. Cannabis use was ascertained in interviews at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 y. Neuropsychological testing was conducted at age 13 y, before initiation of cannabis use, and again at age 38 y, after a pattern of persistent cannabis use had developed. Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education. Informants also reported noticing more cognitive problems for persistent cannabis users. Impairment was concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users, with more persistent use associated with greater decline. Further, cessation of cannabis use did not fully restore neuropsychological functioning among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents.

    If you ask me, this is what parents really need to know abou the new Marijuana law…


  7. Thank you Mark Johnson, for sharing that article. People will have their varying opinions on the issue, but this is indisputable data gathered from scientific research- which obviously far outweighs the lame and annoying excuses people use to justify their lack of judgement in using marijuana.




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