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