Regardless of your personal beliefs about marijuana, one thing is clear: it’s important to talk about it with your kids.

However, talking about marijuana is different than talking about alcohol or other drugs.

That’s partly because of its legal status. While medical marijuana is available for qualifying patients in 26 states, it’s only legal recreationally in seven states and the District of Columbia. It’s still illegal at the Federal level,  classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (the same classification as cocaine and heroin).

As Childrenscolorado.org says, “How do you talk to kids about using a once-banished drug that society has started to accept?

There’s also a vast range of opinion about marijuana. Some parents think it’s nearly harmless, or at least less harmful than alcohol. Others see it as a gateway drug to harder drugs and addiction.

The truth is that both sides can search the internet and find research to support their beliefs. (Even on the long-term effects of marijuana.)

If your kids are approaching the tween years, they already know about marijuana – or rather, think they know about it. They’ve heard rumors and joked about it at school, read references about it, seen it in movies. They’ve heard about its changing legal status in the news. They may have heard that a President admitted to smoking it. They may know you use it.

According the New York Times, 40% of teens in high school have tried marijuana at least once.

These are all great reasons to talk to your kids about marijuana. And that’s one thing all experts agree about: talking to your kids about marijuana can help them form healthier, more responsible habits in their later years.

Kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs at home are significantly less likely to use. – Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) 2013

According to Kelly Caywood, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, parents can begin talking to their children about marijuana around age 10. However, if the child asks questions younger than that, start the conversation then.

She also suggests:

  • Having conversations, not lectures.
  • Ask questions.
  • Avoid making judgments.
  • Remain engaged in your child’s life.
  • Be an active listener by making time for the conversation and making sure you are not distracted.
  • Make it an ongoing conversation, not something you talk about once.
  • Do not approach this topic with anger or demonize marijuana, because that increases the chances that kids will shut down.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids says:

“Research shows that lecturing, tough love, using scare tactics and one-way conversations are highly ineffective in getting your points and concerns heard by teenagers. So what should this new drug talk look like? It involves open and positive communication, active listening, open-ended questions, objectivity, empathy and specific language that avoids polarizing words such as disapprove, bad, stupid and disappoint.

Many parents fear that if they don’t use these old tactics, their teen won’t be fully aware of the harm it can cause and that it isn’t that big of a deal to you. None of these fears are true.”

Surprisingly (at least to me), some of the best advice about talking to kids about weed comes from marijuana advocates. For example, Twotentwice.com offers this advice:

  • Start the discussion early. Get your message out ahead of others they may be getting from friends or popular culture.
  • Have the conversation in a comfortable setting.
  • Open the lines of communication. Let your child know that they can talk to you anywhere, anytime, about anything marijuana-related.
  • Find out what they know. Let them start the discussion by sharing what information they know, and correct misconceptions.
  • Maintain a fact arsenal.  Have a variety of facts ready at hand to drill home key points and counter any arguments or misconceptions they may have.
  • Make your expectations clear, and explain why you have those expectations. You don’t want your teen to be using marijuana – period. Then tell them why – it might have to do with health implications.
  • Set Clear Consequences. Let your child know what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations regarding marijuana.
  • Make the Conversation Relatable. Why is it in your child’s interest not to use marijuana as a teen? Relate it to something they care about – sports, getting into college, good grades, getting a driver’s license, getting a job, etc.
  • Be honest. Share what you know, be okay admitting you don’t know something, and honestly answer the tough questions – including whether you’ve used marijuana or not.
  • Frame the discussion as a health issue. Rather than as a moral one.
  • Be a good listener. It’s just as important to hear a child’s thoughts, attitudes towards, questions about, and experiences with marijuana as it is sharing your own. It also reinforces that marijuana is something you can communicate about, as a two-way street.
  • Be caring. Above all, let them know that you only want what’s best for them – and you’ll always be there for them, no matter what.

I do think it’s important to discuss the potential negative consequences of using marijuana.

Despite marijuana’s changing legal status for adults, the fact is that it’s illegal everywhere for people under 21.

If you want to know about the health risks of marijuana, the Seattle Children’s Hospital has a post by  titled “Legal Doesn’t Mean Safe.” She writes:

Research has found marijuana has adverse effects on teen health. It’s now known that the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s raising real concerns about what the drug does while the brain is still forming. The effects of marijuana change how teens think in school, how safe they are on the road, and potentially how they act for a lifetime (lifelong addiction risks increase with use, teens who use are less likely to finish high school, teens who use have higher suicide risk).

“Use Coupled With Criminalization Can Change Lives For Good: Legalization for medical and recreational use may imply marijuana is benign; for children and teens this is untrue. History shows that teens, especially those of racial minority groups, are incarcerated at higher rates secondary to possession or use of marijuana. A criminal record can have lifelong negative effects.”