By Allen St. Pierre


Nothing has dogged cannabis-law reformers more during this 40-year-old civil-justice movement than the unjustified but politically damaging charge that legalizing marijuana will put children in danger. Naturally, the government has been all too eager to hype parental concerns about legalizing this mildly psychoactive herb as a way to keep its failed policy of cannabis prohibition viable decades beyond the dozen or so years that alcohol prohibition lasted.


Both Democrats and Republicans intent on maintaining the status quo of cannabis prohibition will continue to push the “What about the children?” button for as long as it continues to fan the flames of fear among voters, the media and law enforcement. Increasingly, Americans have come to realize that the best way to prevent underage people from using marijuana is by creating a tightly controlled and regulated market for adult use rather then letting drug dealers decide who’s old enough to buy. But this is a case we must continue to make.           


Exit polling from this past November’s Proposition 19 initiative in California revealed, yet again, that parental concerns about what legalization would look like and how it could impact their children’s lives remain important questions that need to be better answered by reform proponents. In fact, so entrenched are parental concerns about legalizing cannabis that, over NORML’s 40 years of tracking public opinion about cannabis-law reform, a clear trend has emerged: From their mid-twenties until their early fifties, Americans who once supported legalization ceased doing so en masse as they entered their parenting years. However, encouragingly, as our country heads toward the end of the baby-boomer-dominated epoch, Americans in their mid-fifties (i.e., past the age of parenting) have begun to support cannabis legalization again, notably – and not too surprisingly – for medicinal purposes.


In sum, for total legalization to gain political legs in our statehouses and in Congress, parents between the ages of 25 and 55 need to be less oppositional when it comes to ending cannabis prohibition. What can be done to close this important (and, for reformers, strategic) deficit?


For starters, cannabis consumers need to not do truly stupid and reckless things like recording their very young children on camera exposed to cannabis or cannabis smoke; or keeping kids home from school to harvest marijuana crops; or employing young children and teens as “mules” to unsuspectingly move cannabis. Second, the makers of cannabis-related products need to be über-conscious regarding how they market their wares. In the last few years, prohibitionists have seized upon cannabis-infused gumballs, mockups of popular candy brands, colorful soda products (a few years ago, a company marketed a line called Bongwater Soda with flavors like “Rastaberry,” “Banana Spliff” and “Ganja Grape”) and even lollipop pipes.


Also, cannabis-infused edibles must be kept away from children in the same manner that parents largely (and without controversy) secure alcohol and pharmaceutical products.


Bottom line: Parents will continue to oppose legalization if they believe that reform will make the already tough job of raising children even harder, or that cannabis legalization presents some kind of genuine risk to their kids. We must work to make them realize that the greatest risk to their children comes from prohibition instead.


Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML in Washington, DC (