Talking to Kids About Marijuana:
New medical marijuana laws raise safety concerns
Shock, relief and amusement are some of the many emotions felt last July when 57 percent of Oklahomans voted to approve State Question 788, legalizing the use of medical marijuana. These feelings continued as our state, arguably the most conservative in the country, moved forward with relatively loose regulations.
A self-identifying liberal and a mother of two who shoots it straight with my children on most issues, especially when it comes to their safety, I quickly began envisioning how I would discuss this development with them. Both under 10 years old, the conversation would be similar to those we’ve had about alcohol or caffeine. “It’s not something you can have until you’re done growing,” I’d say. As with most medicines, it should be locked up and out of their reach. But, every day on my drive to work, as I pass by billboards using buzz words like “treehouses,” I can’t help but feel concerned, and slightly annoyed, at the oh-so-kid-appealing marketing, packaging and forms in which marijuana is presented, like suckers, gummy bears, chocolates, the list goes on. This “talk” may take a bit more preparation on my end.
“I think it should be in plain packaging,” said Ali Pearcy, mother of two and Oklahoma cannabis farmer. “Personally, I would not keep any of that around in my home. If it looks like candy, they’re probably going to eat it, so I just wouldn’t keep it in my home.”
Ali, along with her business partner Laurie Keeley, began Higher Plains Farm as soon as the law passed.
“We just put our heads together and made it happen,” said Ali.
With experience in farming, Ali and Laurie don’t plan on having a dispensary.
“We want to be growers and not stuck behind a retail counter,” said Laurie.
However, as of March 2019 (www.ommaok.gov), there are over 150 licensed dispensaries that are or will be distributing product to customers, which speaks to the heavy presence cannabis now has in our society. So, how do we talk to our kids about it in a responsible way?
Ali suggests keeping it simple. “Talk to your kids about it like you would any other medicine – that this is for adults and would make kids sick,” she said. “I think if you make it weird, then it’s going to be weird to them. If you talk to them about it like anything else that could be dangerous to them, they grow up with that understanding.”
As the parent of 5- and 3-year-old children, Ali thinks that the language we use is incredibly important.
“I’ve always called it medicinal herbs,” she said. “I try to educate them like I do in all areas of parenting. And the more they understand, the less taboo it will become. We’re the generation that is going to make that change in Oklahoma.”
Regarding how her community has reacted to the new venture, everyone has been very supportive. Perhaps it can all be wrapped up in a one-liner by her 5-year-old Harlow:
“My mommy is a farmer.”
While finding youth medical marijuana materials in Oklahoma takes some serious sleuthing, we can look to states like Oregon (legalized in 1999) or Colorado (legalized in 2000) for guidelines. As with all things, the guidelines vary by the child’s age, but there are some basics that cover all ages, such as identifying the red “THC” symbol that is required by law to be on all packaging.
Talking to Young Children About Marijuana
Experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado (www.childrenscolorado.org) recommend these tips for talking to young children (under 10 years old) about marijuana:
- Deliver messages for young kids in terms of health and safety by saying something like, “We don’t want to put things in our body that could be unhealthy for us.”
- If your child asks, “What is pot/marijuana?” a good response is straightforward: “It is a plant that people use to change how they feel. It can make people feel confused or fuzzy.”
- Give them tools to refuse marijuana. Say something like, “It’s okay to say no if someone asks you to do something that is bad for your health. Say no and tell an adult you trust.”
- If you are concerned about your child accidentally ingesting marijuana, say something like, “Be careful what you eat. If you see candy or a cookie, before you eat it, make sure you know what it is and where it came from. If you don’t, it’s best to say no.”
Marijuana Safety in the Home
If you are a medical marijuana user, Children’s Hospital Colorado (www.childrenscolorado.org) suggests these precautions to ensure the safety of your children and young visitors to your home:
- Keep marijuana up and away, and out of sight from curious children.
- Pick a place your children cannot reach. Any kind of medicine or vitamin can cause harm if taken in the wrong way, even medicine you can buy without a prescription.
- Walk around your house and find a storage place too high for a child to reach or see. This is also important to remember when families are away from home and staying in hotels, or as guests in others’ homes.
- Put marijuana away every time. Never leave it out on a kitchen counter or at a bedside, even if you anticipate using it again in a few hours. Always put every marijuana product and other medicine away every time you use it, including those you use every day.
- Consider purchasing a medication lock box. Children, even young children, can easily access marijuana products in their original packaging. A lock box provides a safe, convenient and affordable method for securing marijuana products in the home or while traveling.
- Tell guests about marijuana safety. Ask houseguests and visitors to keep purses, bags, or coats that have marijuana products in them up and away and out of sight when they are in your home. If you use a babysitter, choose those who are mature, trained and responsible, and are recommended by someone you trust.
- Ask other parents if they have marijuana products in their home before sending your child to play at a neighbor or classmate’s house. If the answer is yes, make sure that all products are stored up and away and out of children’s sight. Because it can be difficult to ask people about this, try including the question along with other things you might normally discuss before sending your child to someone’s home, such as seatbelts, animals, or allergies.
- Be prepared in case of an emergency. Call the Poison Control Center (800.222.1222) right away if you think your child might have consumed marijuana products. Program the number into your home and cell phones so you will have it when you need it.