When my mom first found out I was a cannabis consumer, it was not pretty. It wasn’t the worst fight that a mother and son have ever had; it wasn’t the worst fight we’d had ourselves. But it was not pretty. She was not happy.
And, in retrospect, I can see how a lot of it could have been handled differently. I made some of the mistakes you’d expect from a willful twenty-something on break from college.
I think my biggest misstep was, of course, assuming too much. I assumed, honestly, that my parents had some idea of what I was doing. The basement of my youth was a safe place for us to gather and hold epic ping pong tournaments, play NBA Live or Tony Hawk Pro Skater with our own avatars as point guards and street shredders (Little Chad and Jenniefare Period are members of several virtual Halls of Fame), and have freestyle rap battles (or more accurately, get demolished by Jenn during freestyle rap battles). It was fun, it was inclusive, and there were always a few of us ducking into the bathroom. We had music or a movie playing in the background. We were home from college, and Jenn’s Wesleyan campus was pot friendly, so it was an extension of the life we were already living. I look back on it now as the first time ever that I felt like I wasn’t doing something wrong.
So the conversation with my mom was jarring to me, because it seemed like I was being made to defend something that needed no defense. Marijuana was a positive influence in my life. Cannabis had helped me deal with personal trauma. While I’m not sure there is a causation to go with the correlation, my grades improved as my cannabis use increased. High school (I think I smoked maybe four or five times) wasn’t exactly easy for me; in college, smoking regularly, I made the Dean’s list. This was a healthy alternative to alcohol, and I made sure to remind my mother about some of the alcoholism I had witnessed firsthand through her side of the family.
There was a heated back-and-forth; my mom and I can both take an intractable stance in any argument and choose not to listen to anyone but ourselves. But one of the questions that affected me the most, made me the most hurt and confused, also offered a window into my mother’s perspective. After making what I believed to be the most coherent case for the legalization and normalized use of recreational cannabis ever proffered, she, looking exasperated and a little sad, almost whispered a question that I will never forget:
“What about when you have kids?”
I was incredulous. Had she not been listening? Why would that even be relevant? If there’s nothing wrong with it now, why would there be something wrong with it when I have kids? How is it any different then a beer after dinner? How is it not better than a beer after dinner?
But for my mom this was something so abnormal, so deviant and anti-social and counter-cultural that no parent who cared about the well being of their children would continue to use such a vile substance. It was impossible for her at the time to see this as something other than the reckless experimentations of a college kid. I might as well have been doing cocaine. Didn’t I remember what happened to Len Bias?
I had expected her to embrace immediately something on which she had a very different perspective. I expected her, and this feels stupid to admit, to thank me for smoking pot. I couldn’t understand what she couldn’t understand. To her I was using a “gateway drug,” something that would rob me of all ambition, and as a parent I can appreciate a little better that protect-your-kids-beyond-all-rationality instinct.
Not too long after The Cannabis Discussion, I realized I had to move out and make my own way (even if “make my own way” meant sleeping rent-free on a friends futon and asking my mom for a bit of cash from time to time). I felt like things got easier for us after that, like we could at least recognize that hidden somewhere beneath the ideas of “mother” and “son” were two adults who had formed their own opinions based on their own experiences. We never had another talk about cannabis, until, more than a decade later, after my third trip to Seattle inside of a year, I realized I shouldn’t assume she knew what I was doing and told her about Weekend Review Kit. To her credit she’s been encouraging and positive whenever we talk.
Over the holidays I called to say, “Hey Mom, just a heads up. I’m putting my real name on the website and eventually putting something on my actual Facebook page, so I thought I’d let you know.” Her response was: “Okay, that sounds great. I’m really happy for you.” I can’t always tell if she’s actually excited or has learned to humor me, but at least I know that I’m being open and honest. Because, for me, an honest life is a key component of a healthy life.
So what changed? Time passed. I became a parent, and I think that truly helped my mom see that being a cannabis consumer is kind of like being a bicycle enthusiast or an amateur baker — it’s something you do that constitutes a part of who you are, not a thing that defines who you are and the choices you make.
But I also was able to reflect back on that first conversation and realize that had I approached the topic from a different angle, had I possessed the language to talk about things like responsible cannabis use, or the medical benefits that are continually being discovered, I could have helped educate someone who was simply worried about her son, who had been mislead her whole life, and who only wanted to make sure that a person she loved was safe.
If I could go back, or when the next opportunity arises to come out of the basement to someone in my family, I’ll try to follow these guidelines:
- Be compassionate; seek to understand rather than to be understood.
Think about to whom you’re speaking and ask them genuine questions. Don’t assume you understand their perspective and think that you can simply shoot down obvious stoner stereotypes. For me and for my mother, our responses were ones of emotion, and if we could have related to each on that level, understood that we both cared about each other, that it wasn’t just about holding onto our own opinions, thing might have gone smoother.
- Don’t forget: You have nothing to be ashamed of.
Upon consideration, I realized that my response had less to do with what my mom thought and more to do with the shame I had unnecessarily internalized. I wasn’t really having a discussion with her about this thing, cannabis, that isn’t such a big deal. I was fighting for all the conscious cannabis connoisseurs who had ever been wronged, who had ever been made to feel like they had done something disgraceful, throughout the history of the canna-universe, which isn’t really something my mom has any control over.
- Don’t attack something else to prove your point.
A grievous error I made with my mom was demanding that she recognize cannabis as a preferable alternative to drinking. Not only did it become a point of contention that distracted us from the actual discussion, it was unfair of me to bring up family history. While we did have some family members who struggled with alcoholism, drinking wasn’t a problem in my immediate family. I don’t remember my parents ever even keeping much wine in the house. But my assertion triggered my mother’s defensiveness; she felt like she had something she needed be ashamed of and reacted from that place.
Cannabis is its own thing. It’s possible to build something up without tearing something else down. There are plenty of positive things to say about cannabis and plenty of positive examples to present. Besides, you never know what a person’s connection is to the thing you’re trying to throw shade on, and I’m sure my mom has, just as I do, a lot of good memories that involve a little bit of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
- Do stress that there is a lot of new information regarding the benefits of cannabis and talk about its mislabeling. Try to keep it personal.
Talk about what you’ve learned, not what they need to know. If you have a medical reason for using cannabis, whether it’s glaucoma or anxiety, make sure you stress how responsible cannabis use has helped you with your symptoms. Appealing to your family’s compassion and love will go a long way to helping them understand your perspective. Since our initial talk, my mom has seen the way my family and friends have used medicinal cannabis to treat a variety of ailments, and I believe this has really helped to legitimize cannabis in her mind as something truly beneficial for people she cares about.
- Offer to share.
When I say share, I don’t mean hand them a super twaxed blunt of the finest Pink House has to offer. I mean offer to share a bit of this strange new world with them by starting them off slow: let them watch you. Ask them if it would be okay to vaporize around them the next time they are having a glass of wine or beer. It will go a long way for them to see that with each pull of the pen you don’t descend further and further into reefer madness, into the seedy life of a shiftless misanthrope.
If they are curious and open to trying some cannabis, make sure you create a safe environment, one that allows your family to see that you don’t just go into a blacklit weed cave. Cater the experience to the people you know them to be. Turn on some music they like, serve their favorite foods, and have a fun and comfortable time.
(Check back with us soon for a Functioning Member column devoted to the best way to share cannabis with a first timer.)
There will be a time when we don’t have to have these kinds of discussions, where we won’t need to write these kinds of articles. I don’t believe that we need to defend ourselves now. Our role, as conscious cannabis consumers, is to educate, to enlighten, to spread the happy word about weed.
I also believe that being able to talk openly, without shame, goes a long way to erasing the guilt many of us have been forced to internalize, and that, in turn, will help to end marijuana prohibition. It’s our responsibility to move beyond that shame, to stand up proudly for something we love, out of the basement, into the open air.