02/24/2012 09:08 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

If Weed Is a Gateway Drug, then Alcohol Is Too

"It smells like vinegar, or like, a sweet cleaning solution." Good try, but no, Grandpa. It smells like weed.

Weed is almost easier to get than alcohol -- it's basically legal in California, unless you have more than an ounce on you (which, unless you're dealing it, you won't). All you need to get a card is "headaches" or "insomnia." But parents still swear up and down that their kids aren't smoking weed.

They probably are, and it's really not as big a deal as those parents think it is.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I, like a lot of teenagers, don't smoke. I don't have a moral problem with it, I just don't. But I know a lot of people who do, many of whom went into their high school years as pin-straight, bright-eyed freshmen who swore they would never smoke, but ultimately tried it once at a party and then started to use it consistently, recreationally. Then there are the kids who like it a little too much at those parties, and start smoking every day before school, a practice known as "waking and baking." Finding out that their kids go to school high every day would probably alarm parents, but here's the thing: with a lot of these kids, you would have no idea.

A lot of kids who smoke take tons of AP classes, have high GPAs, and partake in demanding extra-curricular activities. Which of course makes sense because, well, those are the kids that need something to relax them. These are smart kids that don't consider themselves "into drugs." They're not. They smoke weed.

I understand why it can be surprising to find out your teenager smokes, but I don't see how it's different from discovering that she drinks or has sex. So many parents are cool with their kids drinking but consider weed a "drug." Either both alcohol and weed are drugs or neither is. There's nothing that makes drinking safer than smoking. In fact, I would argue that drinking probably makes teenagers do more stuff their parents would disapprove of because weed makes you tired and alcohol hypes you up. Logically speaking, if a teenager is chilled out she is far less likely to go out and do dumb stuff than if she's lost her inhibitions.

I know a girl who started drinking at 14 and smoking at 15. She doesn't have a medical marijuana card, but instead buys her weed from "nice white preppy kids." Her parents know she drinks ("which they're fine with a long as I'm not all in their face about it") but would freak out if they knew she smoked. "The way they see it is that I'm young and smart, so of course I would never do drugs. I don't. Weed isn't a gateway drug! It's not addictive and I get it from nice kids who aren't sketchy drug dealers."

Here's the thing: a lot of teenagers, and a disproportionate number of the ones living in Southern California, smoke weed, which parents may or may not find alarming. I completely respect and understand the viewpoint that people under the age of 21 should not drink, and similarly should not smoke, because both activities are illegal.

What I don't understand, however, are parents who permit (or even encourage) their kids to drink, but then crack down on smoking on the basis that there's a fundamental difference between alcohol and "drugs." Alcohol is just as much or as little of a drug as weed is, but it actually causes significantly more dependency issues (Ever heard of a marijuanaholic? Exactly.) If we're not calling alcohol a gateway drug, let's agree that weed isn't one either.