Marijuana: It's Complicated

A good many parents support marijuana legalization, but they have unequivocal expectations that there will be strict regulations, especially when it comes to kids.
07/12/2013 03:17 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2013

After the ballots were counted and recreational marijuana became a reality in Colorado and Washington State, the calls and emails started coming to us. Emails from parents, concerned about their kids. Emails that asked, "It's legal, now what?"

What now for families? What now for teens?

All of the political ads, all of the conversation to that point had been singularly focused on the grown-ups, not the kids.

Let's be clear: We view legalization of marijuana as a public health issue and our focus is on its residual effects on children. But the typical debate on legal marijuana usually presents two views at the extreme. It's either described as a mind-altering free-for-all or a prime example of a failed war on drugs. Rather than either extreme, the American public is resoundingly somewhere in the middle. And parents of teenagers are at the epicenter.

As the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to finding evidence-based solutions to adolescent substance use disorders, our role now is to help families navigate yet another legal drug of abuse in their kids' lives. We are here to advocate and represent the voice of families in a nonpartisan manner. But rather than parroting what we thought we knew about parents' concerns, we asked them directly. We commissioned an independent, nationally representative survey of parents across the country.

Today, we're releasing those findings and beginning a thoughtful conversation in Colorado, one of the nation's "test kitchens" for medical and now recreational marijuana.

According to this new data, support among adults for medicalization, decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is approximately 70 percent, 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively, and only slightly lower among parents. That's actually not a surprise. The headline though is that many are saying yes, BUT..."

A good many parents support marijuana legalization, but they have unequivocal expectations that there will be strict regulations, especially when it comes to kids.

• Yes, BUT...their increasing tolerance does not mean support for a "laissez-faire" attitude toward marijuana. Fully 90 percent of parents in those states believe that "marijuana should be sold only through licensed growers/sellers and not in places like convenience stores, grocery stores or newsstands."

• Yes, BUT...parents say marijuana use should be prohibited in public places where tobacco smoking is now banned.

• Yes, should be illegal to provide marijuana to underage children at home.

• Yes, BUT..."all forms of marijuana advertising should still be banned."

Our intent in Colorado is not to re-contest the decided vote held last November. Rather, it's to begin to examine closely how the health of children can best be protected, and the concerns of parents addressed, in a changing cultural and statutory environment. In a new reality.

And that reality is that marijuana is now available for recreational use in the states of Colorado and Washington. It's clear that society's views on marijuana are evolving dramatically. And, that many states are now looking to Colorado and Washington as they consider similar steps.

The research brings to life the fact that parents -- including the large numbers who favor legalization -- have serious expectations that recreational marijuana will be regulated and restricted to protect kids and teens. Those expectations far exceed how recreational marijuana is now being implemented. So the fact remains, whether marijuana is legal or not, much more needs to be done with a sharp eye on the needs and health of children.

It's complicated. The research adds new important dimensions to the conversation. We don't have all of the answers. Our intent today and in the coming weeks and months is to bring the voice of parents into the conversation and to learn from the experts, so that we can be truly responsive to a health concern facing families and kids.

Steve Pasierb
President & CEO
The Partnership at