When Brooklyn illustrator and writer Ricardo Cortés planned the 15th-anniversary reissue of It’s Just a Plant, his children’s book about marijuana, 4/20 seemed like the perfect date. Months later, in the midst of a global pandemic, the timing might appear less opportune for many people. But Cortés isn’t looking at the situation that way.
“It’s a strange time to be releasing any book, but the timing may also be quite appropriate,” he said in an email to High Times. “More parents than ever are using marijuana, most are at home with their children all day and night, and perhaps calculating conversations every responsible parent needs to hold with their kids about pot.”
And with many parents now taking a lead in their children’s education while schools are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, Cortés says his book can complement a creative curriculum that teaches life lessons as well as facts and figures.
“It’s Just a Plant is a book designed for homeschooling: It’s a picture book for kids. It’s for parents to help discuss marijuana with their kids. It’s for parents who use marijuana,” he said. “And it’s for parents who do not use marijuana, never will, and who want to keep the plant as far away as they can from their children, for as long as possible. It’s just a book to help hold a smart conversation about the plant.”
First released in 2005, It’s Just a Plant follows the journey of a young girl named Jackie, who becomes curious about cannabis after she discovers her parents smoking a joint in their bedroom. Jackie’s education about marijuana includes visits to several members of her community, including a farmer who cultivates the plant and a doctor who advises that cannabis should only be used by adults.
Talking About Cannabis with Kids Is No Easy Task
Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, has created drug education programs for high school students and is the founder of the Safety First drug education project and the director emerita of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance. She wrote in the afterword for the book that having a conversation about drug use with children can be a daunting experience for adults.
“I’ve found that concerned parents, barraged with scare tactics initially targeted at their children and now aimed straight at them, find themselves confused, frightened, and even doubting their ability to talk with their own kids,” Rosenbaum wrote. “Many parents worry about how much to admit about their own past or present marijuana use.”
Cortés’ book offers an opportunity for parents to discuss many aspects of the conversation around marijuana, including prohibition. In one passage, Jackie witnesses a group of young men being placed under arrest by the police for smoking pot. Cortés, who spent years drawing portraits and running art workshops in jails at Rikers Island and the Manhattan Detention Complex in New York City, said his inspiration to write the book was rooted in his involvement in criminal justice reform.
“It’s Just a Plant came from my interest in justice issues around drug policy and the U.S. drug war,” he said in a press release for the reissue of the book. “The criminalization of cannabis always seemed to be an especially dismal failure of social policy and a misuse and waste of law enforcement, so I was interested in adding to the debate.”The 15th-anniversary edition of It’s Just a Plant, published under the Black Sheep imprint of Akashic Books, is now available online.