topic starter guy (bumbaugh) Thu 10 Mar 05 13:58
Joining us in the Inkwell is Ricardo Cortes, 31, is an artist, educator and creative consultant. He is the founder and director of the Magic Propaganda Mill (MPM), a NY-based visual design agency that combines art with progressive political education. Since 1999, MPM has championed a blend of psychedelic illustration and digital design through fashion, a skateboard company, and even a project working with members of the NYPD in an effort to legalize marijuana. His work has been featured in publications including New York Magazine, The Fader, Time Out New York, The NY Post, Urban Latino, The Source, VIBE, Mass Appeal and Soft Skull Press. Ricardo's latest project is the coolest children's book about marijuana ever made, "It's Just a Plant." "It's Just a Plant" tells the tale of how a young girl learns about marijuana: from her parents' own use to the farm where it's grown to the doctor's office to a police officer's historical perspective. It's fast becoming a preeminent alternative for parents to use in the face of decades of misinformation about marijuana, and it has the distinction of being labeled both "a glimpse of what enlightened drug education could be" by Dr. Andrew Weil, and "an outrage" by just about everyone else. For more info: www.magicpropagandamill.com www.justaplant.com Gary Greenberg joins Ricardo. Gary has a seven year old son with whom one day he will have the conversation about drugs, which may or may not include the statement, "It's just a plant." He's married, to the mother of the child, as it felicitously happens, and the family lives in a place that calls itself The Last Green Valley in Connecticut with two decrepit cats, a lymphomic dog, and five hens that haven't laid an egg since November. He writes for magazines, most recently Harper's and Mother Jones, more distantly Rolling Stone and the New Yorker, and sometimes they let him write about drugs and drug policy. But not on drugs. Never on drugs. Great to have you here, guys. I'm looking forward to this conversation the next couple weeks.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 10 Mar 05 17:02
OK, for those of you whose childrearing days are way in the past, or who never had kids, I'll remind you what a kids' book is: a (slightly, in this case) oversized book with (beautiful, in this case) colorful drawings that are designed to hold the attention of the prereaders while you read to them, to give the emergent readers something like a palate cleanser before embarking on a new page, and to give the competent (and repeat) readers something new to look at everytime they read it. Taken together, the idea is to burn the book into memory--its language, its characters, its morals. That's good for business, of course, and, especially in the case of didactic children's literature, it's at least theoretically good for kids. So the idea of using children's literature for subversive purposes is a little edgy. Of course, it's been done for awhile, most notably in the injection of multi-culti, tolerant-of-everything-except-tolerance themes into the books. But it's one thing to give kids stories like the one my wife is reading to Joel right now--about a Haitian owl who thinks he's ugly but is in love with a Haitian sparrow and who discovers that he's not really ugly after all--as a kind of gentle indocrintation into the Liberal world view that kids' book authors seem to share. ANd it's another thing to indoctrinate kids into a view that is directly opposed to the law of the land. Which is what this book does. Later, we'll talk about how this book feels to this hemp-friendly guy who reads a couple of books a day to his kid. But for starters, Ricardo, maybe you should tell us why you wrote this book--or, to put it another way, why you decided to voice your opposition in this genre.
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 09:56
I've written several essays and articles condemning the drug war against marijuana. Similarly, I've created numerous works of art in response to the war and how it affects both our nation and the individual family. Nevertheless, a mountain of such journalism and creativity has made little impact on how the war proceeds and how "drug education" is taught in our country. Recent advertising campaigns by the Partnership For a Drug-Free America (PDFA) prompted me to realize a new tactic was in order. I realized that children were being targeted with anti-marijuana "facts" that were both misleading and dangerous. An entirely new form of writing on drug policy was needed, and, combining my skills as an author, an artist and as a child educator, I felt it was time to take the conversation directly to the kids. The fact is, despite our best efforts to restrict, to ban and to otherwise hide it in every way we can... children learn about marijuana. Whether in the schoolyard or the classroom, kids are inundated with information about it. Unfortunately, most "drug facts" are more frightening than educational (campaigns by PDFA blame marijuana, through startling leaps of logic, for homelessness, teen pregnancy and gunplay). Parents today have few sources of scientific information about the plant that puts the safety of their children before politics. Many parents are not comfortable discussing marijuana beyond "just say no," especially if they have tried the plant themselves to positive effect. Some parents fear it would encourage their children to experiment if marijuana use was discussed in terms other than outright denouncement, but I believe we can deter early use and abuse of drugs by opening channels of communication between children and their parents. I do not advocate marijuana use for kids; my story explicitly addresses the potential harm of drug abuse and insists that marijuana is something not to be experimented with by them. Nevertheless, most children will encounter marijuana in their lives; shouldn't they be prepared with thorough information?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 11 Mar 05 10:27
That's a really cogent set of reasons for revamping drug education overall. And, as Ethan Nadelmann says all the time, if you win the kids, you win the drug war. But what I'm wondering is about the specific choice of a book geared to the young. It's Just a Plant uses the language and format of books that pre-10 year old kids read. I'm sure there are plenty of 8 yr. olds exposed to pot, but I'm also sure that this is still relatively unusual. So why not a book in the style of the various series so popular with kids in 4th or 5th grade on up, you know, books that are essentially watered down versions of grown-up literature, both fiction and nonfiction? Why a book in the *young* readers style?
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 12:25
A recent survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that 11% of parents interviewed admitted to using marijuana in the last year. I suspect the figure could be much higher (how many parents do you think would tell the PDFA that they smoke pot?!). In any case, its evident that parents of young children use marijuana. So how should these parents conduct themselves? Should they hide and sneak around, hoping their children are none the wiser? Im not suggesting that parents need to wave joints around in the presence of their children; responsible marijuana use, as we know, is an adult behavior and I believe it should be handled accordingly and with adult discretion. Nevertheless, sex is an adult behavior, and we dont wait until a child is in the fourth or fifth grade before discussing the birds and the bees. A childs awareness of marijuana is likely already being formed by the time they are 12-14 years old; some kids are already trying their first "hit" by age 10! In kindergarten they are already beginning the journey of drug are bad tell the police if you see them. Some drugs are bad, but it takes a much more nuanced conversation to really explain to a child which drugs are bad, when they are bad, why they are bad, and why they are sometimes.. good. Just like, I believe, you might explain how sex can be something very beautiful in the hands of responsible adults.. but definitely something dangerous and premature for a child to consider. Finally, as an artist, I really just enjoyed the idea of crafting a illustrated story that would awe a young child, oblivious to its contested politics, while at the same time throw adults into a tizzy and hopefully get them engaged in a discussion about drug policy.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 11 Mar 05 13:41
I like your analogy to the birds and the bees--another adult sphere that can't be kept entirely away from kids, and requires some explanation even at the youngest ages. But isn't alcohol a more fitting analogy? Do you think that a book like "It's Just a Distilled Plant" wold be a good thing, or does prohibition somehow make your book necessary?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 11 Mar 05 13:47
The laws and cultural biases against marijuana are so irrational and so destructive. I saw you on "The O'Reilly Factor" the other day, Ricardo, and I thought you ddid a pretty good job of standing up to his bullying. What is going to happen in this insane, endless war? The government's credibility on this matter is as flimsy as their suppression is powerful.
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:14
In regards to your earlier post I do think that prohibition adds another dimension to the issue. In fact, the Just in Its Just a Plant alludes specifically to that element. Many have criticized the title and I agree that its not so simple to call marijuana just a plant. Then again, if the same punishment and oppressive tactics were leveled at wine-drinkers, I think a book called Its Just Grapes might be in order. As to your second post Wow. The United States government position on marijuana is incredible.. and tragic. The Drug War is the longest and most expensive domestic war in recent world history. It effects everyone from 8-year-old children shot as bystanders in drug deals gone bad, to the tens of thousand of police officers who are assaulted every year fighting the senseless war. Why is it not on the front page of the NYTimes every day like some of the other multibillion-dollar Wars our government is currently engaged in? As to the Bill OReilly spot.. I think its precisely that type of audience that the anti-Drug War team needs to work with better. Prohibition is something the staunchest conservative would be against if framed in the right historical context. I dont think this should continue to be an Us against Them issue. If it is, well never win, thats for sure. Instead I would rather work with unlikely allies; already one of my favorites organizations is a collective of Police Officers who are trying to end the drug war. Check www.leap.cc for into on them. Furthermore, if youre curious to see a transcript of my conversation with OReilly, you can read it here: http://www.justaplant.com/press
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:50
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Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:58
My former husband started smoking pot at 11, I think. So aiming it at 10 year olds isn't unheard of.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sat 12 Mar 05 05:30
>Prohibition is something the staunchest conservative would be against if framed in the right historical context Actually, the staunchest conservatives, at least those of a libertarian bent, are against Prohibition. It's the cultural conservatives, especially the ones who feel that their country was hijacked in 1966 or so and who can't seem go get enough retribution for that, who are prohibition's stalwarts. It's a kind of zealotry that is hard to stomach if you don't start with the same assumptions as they do. (When I have to interview someone int he drug czzar's office, I have to remind myself that my jobn is to get them to say what they think rather than to tell them why what they think is as wrong as can be.) And the basic assumption is that the drug war is about saving our kids from drugs. IN fact, this is the public position of ONDCP: the whole point of having an office of national drug control policy is to prevent kids from being harmed by drugs. Now, I believe that this position is equal parts sincere and cynical: they do sincerely worry that their kids, their friends' kids, and all the kids in the world will get fucked up by drugs, and they are also trying to enforce a cultural agenda that has its roots deep in our confusions about pleasure. This latter motive is steeped in bad faith, which is why you can have a culture that simultaneously prosecutes a vicious drug war and purveys Prozac, nicotine, and alcohol: illicit drug use threatens to rupture the fragile container in which we've placed our hedonism. I think It's Just a Plant wants to challenge both of these motives. It exposes the bad faith by normalizing and depathologizing the drug and its use by making simple and incontrovertible statements like It's just a plant, it's like drinking a glass of wine or driving a car, it's something normal parents do, it's something a mother and a daughter can talk about on a bike ride, etc. But I wonder about the second motive: "It gives many people joy, but like many things, it can also make someone sick if it is used too much" is, as near as I can tell, the only statement about the possible harms of pot. So I wonder why this is. Is it part of the agitprop of the book? Do you think this is sufficient? ARe you thinking that th rest of the culture will take care of that part of the story?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 12 Mar 05 05:34
Wow, Ricardo -- that O'Reilly transcript is great. Really well done. I'm wondering how typical that exchange is of your public conversations about the book. How difficult has it been being understood as you're promoting this book?
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sat 12 Mar 05 11:17
First, a quick thank you, and response to Bumbaugh: Im very quickly learning the language of media communications and getting much better at diffusing attempts to misrepresent my book and its intentions. To a certain extent, I knew a childrens book about marijuana would be great bait to get people knocking and checking for the controversy. Once I have them, however, I try to twist the idea that this is a childrens book promoting marijuana to this is a childrens book with educational information about marijuana. Theres a huge difference, obviously; but of course the first thing some people want to paint this project with is a brush of irresponsibility. I try to point out theres nothing irresponsible about wanting to impart more information and theres nothing irresponsible about pointing out the dramatic failures of marijuana prohibition in this country. To add to that, and to link back to Garys last comment, I agree that people on the other side of the fence of this issue often have good intentions at heart. Most prohibitionists earnestly feel endangered by illegal drugs and use incarceration as their only known option to keep the threat at bay. Most are historically and scientifically ignorant to the hypocrisy this position holds when compared to how we treat alcohol, tobacco, coffee, prescription drugs, etc.. as you mention. So Im trying to be careful not to fight against these people. Rather, I want to appeal to their real concerns and address them respectfully. Truth is on our side, in this case, and that can be used to our advantage. For example, people are afraid of crime associated with illegal drugs. Well, theres no greater argument to repeal prohibition than this. The Drug War, not marijuana itself, is the cause of the highly lucrative black market that surrounds drug sales. Every time an innocent bystander is killed by a stray drug-dealers bullet, it should be noted in the media as a prohibition-related crime, NOT a drug-related crime. Of course, marijuana is not a care-free commodity. Gary also mentions that I possibly diminish the harms of pot use with the statement: "It gives many people joy, but like many things, it can also make someone sick if it is used too much. To be fair, I think thats a pretty good assessment of the danger of marijuana (there are also parts of the book where a doctor warns the young child that marijuana is NOT for children). Its horribly vague, but yes, I expect that a parent will be reading the story alongside the child and can supplement the book with their own experience. There were several aspects of the plant and its history that I had to fit into a short childrens story. I tried to make this book a primer, a starting point, for parents to use to open discussion and throw in their 2 cents. By the way, for all Inkwell readers, Ive posted a special online version of the story that will be available to read during our discussion. Although the computer screen hardly does the illustrations justice, if you would like to read Its Just a Plant you can do so here: http://www.justaplant.com/inkwell
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 13 Mar 05 07:33
Do you have kids, Ricardo?
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sun 13 Mar 05 07:52
No, no children. I taught in NYC public schools for 6 years and I continue to do community development project with youth, but no kids of my own.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 13 Mar 05 08:26
Is there any concern that publishing this book will impair your future ability to do so?
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sun 13 Mar 05 13:12
Hi Sharon, I'm not sure what you mean by your question. What does publishing a book have to do with the ability to have children?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 13 Mar 05 14:38
Well, I wasn't thinking so much of that, though the spectre of CPS is always in the air. I was thinking, do you think you might have trouble teaching and otherwise spending time with kids in the future because of this book?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 14 Mar 05 03:55
Reason I asked, and maybe one of the reasons SHaron's question comes up, is that this weird thing happens when you have kids. You feel a kind of visceral protectiveness that, at least in my case, seems to come from a reservoir that was not only untapped but unknown previous to the child's arrival. It could be evolutionary (the only way mobile, autonomy-loving creatures could be hornswoggled into taking care of offspring for a period of time unparalleled elsewhere in the animal kingdom) or psychological (needing to control something crucial to you that is not you) or whatever, but it's real and it's huge and it makes you a little bit nuts. Or maybe a lot nuts. SO nuts, in fact, that I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that much of parenting is figuring out which of your anxieties about your kids is really born of concern for them and which is about taking care of yourself, i.e., which is altruism and which is narcissism.. In any event, this is all by way of saying that It's Just a Plant leaves me confused. On the one hand, I think it's a great and bold idea, and I love the irony it embodies and that its title captures: that simple facts, unembellished, can be deeply subversive. On the other hand, I can't imagine reading it to Joel. Now I'm not sure which kind of worry this is (and obviously the two can coincide). After all, since my friends and I have started to have kids, hempen activities have mostly been relegated to various closets, metaphorical and otherwise. That's not out of fear of secondhand smoke but out of fear of loose lips on the playground or in the classroom or during the DARE assembly. It's about self-protection, and I'm willing to hide and behave like a criminal in order to take care of my anxiety. But I do worry, especially with my thrill-seeking, pleasure-loving kid, what's going to happen when he's 11 or 12 or 13, and here I see the charm of zero tolerance: One less thing to worry about, this one truly about him. I know how irrational that conclusion is (although I am certain that it is the impulse that gives the drug war its tenacious hold on otherwise thoughtful members of society), and I will resist it, believing as I do that the truth is generally the best weapon. But what I wonder is this: Do you know anyone who has read this book to their kids, or whose kids have read it? What has been their experience?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 14 Mar 05 05:14
Gary's second paragraph speaks for me. My daughter's dad was a promising young athlete, and then he discovered pot, and it all went to hell. That's not to say it wouldn't have all gone to hell anyway, but I wonder. And it's something I worry about very much with my daughter.
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Mon 14 Mar 05 07:07
There is nothing irrational about what you are both saying: you have a great concern to keep your children away from drug use. However, I dont see how hiding in the closet, metaphorical and otherwise, is the way to make this happen. We all read two weeks ago that Pres. Bush decided to hide his marijuana use from our nation because he didnt want young children to emulate him. This is a noble perspective; I understand the logic, but I think it ignores what happens in the absence of that dialogue. 8 year old children are learning about pot regardless if their parent decides to play a part of that education. They see it at school, and some of them might be more perceptive than you imagine about mom and dads Friday night jaunts to the attic (most kids have explored every inch of their parents dresser drawer by nine years old). I believe the fear of talking to kids about this is based more on the habit of cultural taboo youre falling precisely into the trap that Im trying to engage: that is, many parents worry that by honestly discussing delicate subjects that they will open the door and perhaps encourage their children to experiment. Havent you found, for example with issues of sexuality, that the opposite is the case? The more you talk about sex: the beauty, the responsibilities, the dangers the less likely a child will try it before they are ready. There is nothing in Its Just a Plant that is at odds with Zero Tolerance; the book explicitly says that marijuana use is not for children.. ever. The book is merely another tool that a parent might use in a conversation with their children. As to your question, I know several parents who have read the story to young children. I have read emails from parents thanking me from the bottom of their heart, parents who felt stifled in talking about something that was such a part of their lives. I have also received emails like the following: Shame on you. I have not read your book, nor do I intend to, but I saw you on Fox News today. If it is true that your book tells children that pot is for responsible adults then that is the best, most successful way to MAKE SURE that all children WANT TO TRY IT!! And that very desire landed my child in jail last year. A younger boy who wanted to try it asked him if he could get some for him. The younger boy got caught, ratted out my son, and my son wound up in jail on a felony delivery charge because it happened at school! He could face 10 years and a $10,000 fine for getting that boy one joint to try. Obviously there are extreme and heartwrenching concerns on either side. However, I really dont know where any of us would disagree; none of us want kids to experiment with drugs. Reading books like Its Just a Plant and talking openly about drug use will either delay this age of experimentation, or encourage it to happen earlier. Of course, I lean towards the former.
Coleman K. Ridge (ckridge) Mon 14 Mar 05 11:29
My twelve-year-old son asked me last night "Which is more dangerous, smoking marijuana or smoking tobacco?" He is on schedule for being a trial to his parents. When I asked how much marijuana, at what age, he said "Twenty years old, Saturday nights." So what could I say? I told him that smoking tobacco is the cause of all the deaths from drug use that I know of personally, and that the only cases of people dying from marijuana use that I have ever heard of come from driving high. I gave him the standard warnings, that there is a genetic predisposition to addiction on both sides of our family, and that marijuana has gotten much, much stronger than the stuff of which I have experience. Where one could get pleasantly buzzed sharing a joint with one or two friends in my day, I warned, a quarter joint or one hit might do the same work nowadays. Now this is the interesting part, and the part that shows the value of talking about these things. He had been under the impression that one smokes marijuana like cigarettes, a joint every half hour or so. It had never occurred anyone to talk to him about relatively safe dosages. That sort of information can be the difference between sticking a toe in and drowning.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 14 Mar 05 18:22
That's one ugly screed, and also a little pathetic. Plus it's a great illustration of how drugs and drug users get blamed for the drug war's evils. So what are some of the good things you hear from grateful parents?
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Tue 15 Mar 05 06:19
Coleman, I applaud your candor. Answering as honestly as you did will hopefully make your son feel comfortable being equally as open with you. And that is a great key to keep our kids out of harms way. According to the 2004 Monitoring the Future survey (http://monitoringthefuture.org), a federally funded annual study on teen drug use rates, eighth-graders rate the occasional use of marijuana as being more dangerous than occasional use of crack cocaine, everyday drinking and almost twice as harmful as regular tobacco use!! This is the current youth understanding of marijuana and goes to show how (in)effective the propaganda is. Otherwise... Gary, I'm not sure what you were refering to as ugly. Please refresh me.
Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Tue 15 Mar 05 06:26
Whoops, my bad. I'm guessing you're refering to the email that was sent to me? Yes.. ugly. Of course, I understand her horror: her son became involved with marijuana and now faces considerate incarceration. Now, if we can assume that his health is ok and he had no problems using the drug (the parent never even said the boy actually used it), the tragedy is indeed related to the law and not the drug itself. It's the drug war that is threatening her son.. not marijuana. For example, the Federal Higher Education Act currently prohibits student loans for student convicted of a drug crime (there are no similar restrictions on rapists, murderers, etc.). This is worng on so many levels, but what takes the cake is the the Government has the gall to turn around and say "marijuana can make you lose your student loans"! No, not marijuana.. Federal Law!
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 16 Mar 05 13:36
I just got this Salon piece in email. Very apropos. DID YOU PUFF, DADDY Twelve years ago, back when you could put things in the mail without a return address, my old college buddy Jim sent me a package. Opening the plain, brown box, I was surprised at its contents: the small purple bong he and I had put to very good use in the late '80s and early '90s. Along with this stained relic he had scribbled a note of explanation: "Getting married and planning to have children, so I guess I won't be needing this anymore." I wasn't sure what unnerved me more: his decision that "growing up" meant giving up something that he enjoyed without incident, or the implied idea that I was stuck in a hazy past while he moved on to an appropriate, adult future. The second time I experienced In Loco Bongus I thought: This is getting weird (and also: What am I going to do with two bongs?). This time my co-worker walked into my office, closed the door, and sheepishly explained that while he and his glass two-footer had had some great times together, his son was getting older, he had a second on the way, and he didn't want anyone under four feet to stumble across it accidentally. "I don't want my boy to think it's OK to be a pothead," he explained. "Well, that's not true, I don't want him to think it's OK to be a full-blown hazed-out pothead." Which is why he switched to a much smaller, more easily stashed pipe. According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than a third of Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at some point in their life that's 80 million people who actually admit it, and I suspect there are a couple more who don't. Many of these millions can look and neither should you, little man. That must be nice for them. I don't know many of these people. The people I have spent the last decade working and playing with have inhaled more than a few puffs and taken a variety of trips down Alice's rabbit hole. Yet some way, somehow they have turned into able and impressive members of the republic. These are people with good jobs, who engage in charitable pursuits and who rarely cut in line at Whole Foods. We've taken some of our old vices with us into adulthood without burning down the house or checking into rehab. We've done a good job prolonging our adolescence, but now we're facing adulthood's ultimate gut check: children. And when it comes to kids, we have a drug problem. What to tell the children about past at their and, in many cases, current offspring with a straight face and explain that while they once experimented with drugs during the folly of their youth, now they don't drug use ain't easy. Should we practice what we preach? Should we lie? Where do you draw the line between being a hypocrite and protecting your kids? Are we worse parents if we get high in front of our kids than if we have a couple of stiff drinks? How do we reconcile our own experiences with drugs ones that have been overwhelmingly positive with the very real possibility that our kids could run into trouble with what are in fact potent substances? Before you write nasty letters to the editor denouncing my friends and me for advocating drug use, let's be clear: Scores of people have had their lives and the lives of those around them destroyed by drugs. No one I know believes that all drugs are good nor wishes a nation of junkies on anyone. Drugs are not for all people, all drugs are not for all drug users, and no illicit drugs are good for children. Among my close friends, there's a general feeling that there are "good" drugs and "bad" drugs. The good ones are empathetic and eye-opening (MDMA, marijuana, hallucinogens). The bad ones are ego-driven and destructive (coke, speed, heroin). Both types can destroy you it's just that they haven't in our case. In a topic that doesn't deal much in grays, this is a nuanced and certainly unpopular point of view. So it's no surprise, if a bit disappointing, that most of the people I talked to asked to have their names changed. "I'm not nervous at all about talking to my sons about sex," says my friend Rob, a 32-year-old writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and two small boys, aged one and five. "But I'm scared shitless to talk to them about drugs." Rob smokes as much as two to three times a week, but never when his children are awake. He thinks the worst thing for him to have heard when he was a kid would have been that smoking pot is acceptable. "I would have been off to the races," he says. That's why Rob is hesitant to be completely honest with his own children about his drug use. "I probably won't be fully open about my drug use until my sons are in their 20s, post-college maybe. I feel like I have to give him guidance before that, but I'm not going to tell him about the time I dropped two hits of E and two tabs of acid and had my brain melt while I watched the Breeders and the Beastie Boys at Lollapalooza. I can't say, 'Make sure you don't melt your brain like daddy!'" "My push for parents is always to be open and honest," says Marsha Rosenbaum, who leads workshops for parents on how to handle drug use among their kids as director of the Safety First project of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Kids have amazing bullshit detectors and are probably going to know that we aren't telling the truth. To the parents who stopped using drugs, I say tell them your story and tell them the real story." Drug story hour's a tough one, but many of my friends want to tell their the good and the bad and the hazy in betweens children about all of their experiences eventually. Knowing whom to tell what when is the hard part. Rob says he knows exactly what he'll say to his kids when they're 25; he just has no idea what to tell them when they're 10. "My husband and I won't hide our pot use from our daughter because it's just such a natural part of our lives," says Carla, a 35-year-old communications specialist in Oakland, Calif., and mother of an 8-month-old girl. "But while she's growing up will we tell her Mommy and Daddy loved having sex on coke in a hotel room when she was staying with Grandma? Will we tell a teenage girl that the occasional line of K [Ketamine] is a blast? Absolutely not. The important thing is to explain that drugs are for adults who are old enough to handle them, and that they will have a chance to experiment soon enough in life if that's what they want to do." Allie, a 33-year-old legal aid attorney in Washington, D.C., who has been perhaps hypocritical known to enjoy a large cocktail of substances over the years, is planning a family now and suspects she'll take a somewhat less tolerant approach. "I won't tell them about my own use until they're old enough not to be influenced by it, which I think is 16 to 18 depending on the kid, because I won't tolerate any drug use from them," she says. "It just seems like they'll have so many sources in their lives justifying drug use from friends to hormones to boredom to the internet that they will also need to have something on the other side balancing it." I myself don't have kids. I may very well someday, and as I get older I can increasingly understand the temptation to just out and out lie to them about a variety of parts of my life, especially my drug use. I mean, do I really want to tell Larry Jr. that daddy had a mind-altering moment on mushrooms at Joshua Tree when he was 23, but my dear, my dear boy, if I ever find mushrooms in your backpack you'll be grounded from now until your freshman year in college? "I would be much more concerned if my kids thought I was a hypocrite than if they thought I was a pothead," says my friend Alan, a professor of English at Indiana University and soon-to-be father of twins. Alan's been thinking a lot about what he's going to tell his children about his daily pot use, a habit he suspects won't be so compatible with the daily rigors of daddyhood. "I'll tell them that I smoke, I like it, but that it's not for everyone," he says. "I will tell them that I did certain drugs for adventure and exploration, but never to counter self-esteem and an inability to tolerate reality. I will tell them if they decide to try drugs, I hope they tell me and I'll demand that they be safe." Safe is actually less subjective than it may sound. "Just as you can't use a chain saw or drive until you are a certain age, you shouldn't use drugs until you are old enough to be able to handle it," says Mitch Earleywine, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. Earleywine says new studies reveal that cannabis can interfere with the brain's development before the age of 17. It stands to reason that a compelling case can be made for telling your kids to hold off until after high school graduation, even if you didn't. A recent Office of National Drug Control Policy anti-drug campaign seeks to help confused adults reconcile their past use with whatever version of "just say no" they're trying to work out as they raise kids. Called "Hypocrite," it reads: "So you smoke pot. And now your kid's trying it and you feel like you can't say anything. Get over it. Smoking pot can affect the brain and lead to other risky behaviors. So you have to set the rules and expect your kid to live drug free no matter how hypocritical it makes you feel." "In the focus groups we asked parents to identify some of the barriers that existed in talking to kids about drugs and their own experience with drugs came up as one of those barriers," says Jennifer DeVallance, a spokesperson for the ONDCP. "These ads are saying: You need to step up to the plate, regardless of what your experience was." Unlike the folks in the government's focus group, most of my friends don't think their own past makes them hypocrites, but rather better informed parents. Jill, an interior designer who lives outside of Nashville, Tenn., with her teenage son, says that she's not so worried about her son's experimentation because she has so much experience with drugs herself. "If you never did drugs as a teen, or any other time in your life, I suspect all you can think about is your kid behaving like he or she is a character in Reefer Madness or that he's going to become Robert Downey Jr.," she says. Jill has resigned herself to the fact that her son does drugs, but she is tough with him about his use. "We talked about what some people can handle and others can't." She explained to him that in her mind, pot is on par with alcohol: Both get you high, both should be taken in moderation and both can have devastating effects on your life if you overindulge. "Once I knew about his use, I told him what I had done," she says. "Not everything all at once. I didn't want my former experiments to encourage him, and it was more information than he needed at one sitting." "If you didn't think your drug use was a big mistake, don't tell them that it was a big mistake, which is what the government wants you to say," says Rosenbaum. "Tell them that they were probably attracted to it for the same reasons that you were. And if you quit, tell them why." Delia, a 47-year-old physical therapist in Manhattan with a 13-year-old daughter, agrees. "I will tell her drugs were fun and seductive," she says, "but ultimately they were a mistake." Knowing that Delia had a pretty wild ride in the late '60s and '70s, I ask her if she plans to tell her daughter the whole story. Her answer is an unflinching no. "I can't ever tell her everything I did, especially that I tried heroin," she says. "I tried it once and liked it so much that I knew it could destroy me. A survival instinct kicked in, one I don't know would kick in for her. But I can't tell her the entire truth of my use because I don't want to influence her." And there's the riddle: There's no more influential person in a child's life than a parent. Therefore, in one way or another, every parent I talked to felt that to a certain degree they had to lie to their kids about drugs. Yet almost in the same breath, few want to mask what for at least a certain period in their life was a very real, important and joyful part of who they were and are as people. "My goal as a parent," says Carla, "is to give her the tools to know what she can handle and what's too much. I don't want her to say no to drugs, because they can be freakin' fun. It's not a popular perspective, but it's true. Fun is a big part of my life, and drugs are a part of fun." "But you know what?" she says with a pregnant pause, "my perspective today could change a lot in 10 years." If so, I fear I'll be getting another bong in the mail. Larry Smith is the articles editor of Men's Journal and has written for The New York Times, Teen People, ESPN Magazine, and other publications. This story originally appeared on Salon.com.
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