I'd been using cannabis steadily for almost two years by the time my teenage son caught me red-handed smoking a community blunt with a cousin in my own suburban garage. As my son and I stared at one another in panic, masked as confusion, I did my very best to think quickly on my feet of a plausible way to explain the smoke. My cousin, easily a decade or more younger than me, leaned in, and instead of offering me a lifeline or ready-made excuse, said "Live in your truth Cuz". I wish I could say the heavens opened and angels started trumpeting triumphantly but I'd be lying my ass off. In reality, when my son shrugged and left to go inside with his usual sarcastic smirk, I sighed with relief and toked even more heavily on that fated blunt. A conversation that surely many parents plan for, either with dread or trepidation, I successfully skirted until I was exposed that fateful evening. I had no prepared outline or discussion strategy and just ended up winging it.
As a Black woman the impacts and legacy of racial discrimination and targeted harassment of generations of men and women in my community have left people who look like me with some residual and significant fears associated with cannabis use. The Cannabis Act was passed in Canada on October 17, 2018 and while maybe it was cause for celebration for a rapidly growing portion of Canadians, in my community, there wasn't any specific discussion except when politicians were campaigning against retail dispensary licenses being issued in cities like Brampton, Ontario where local Black politicians would often cite the usual 'weed is the gateway drug' tropes now proven to be outdated as more information is continually revealed about the negative propaganda campaign that was designed by government law enforcement to target Black and brown communities.
As a mother raising a Black teenage son in the suburbs, I'm not ignorant to the risks of being so up front and honest about my personal cannabis use. My son is smart, insightful and very intelligent. I also grew up in the suburbs but that was in the mid 80s. As a suburban teen, if I wanted to experiment with cannabis I would have had to search hard to find it. For myself, experimenting as a teen with cannabis was hanging with 3 girlfriends and trying to smoke the leaves that were swiped from a live cannabis plant. We didn't know that the leaves held no THC, so we spent the entire 20 minutes asking each other "Do you feel anything?" before giving up and moving on to making Killer Kool-aid with a parent's liquor cabinet stash. My real exposure to cannabis began in CEGEP (which is community college in Montreal, QC).
Cannabis today, with adult use federal legalization having occurred two years ago, is far more readily available. In anticipation of legalization, I and others in various online Moms Groups discussed how to have the cannabis use conversation with our kids. So it's not like anyone can say pot users do not think ahead or anticipate. Most parents approach discussing their cannabis use based on the age and maturity levels of their children. I see nothing wrong with this approach however I would take it a step further. I have grown to believe that discussing cannabis with children should be no different than discussing alcohol, prescription medications and anything else restricted to and meant for adult-only use.
If you sensed a tinge of bravado in my last paragraph you would be correct in picking out its falseness. For all of my own big talk about cannabis being no different than alcohol, I was still the mom described in the opening paragraph, paralyzed when confronted with my cannabis use by my own teen son. While I can be honest and say I probably avoided initiating any further discussion about my cannabis, something new also began to happen. While struggling with severe anxiety and worsening depression in the early throes of the covid-19 pandemic, I stopped trying to hide my cannabis from my son's sight lines. As a result, my son saw me normalizing cannabis use in our household, and before his eyes. This normalization I believe has at least removed some of the mystery of cannabis to him. He also continues to have zero interest in cannabis or even trying alcohol.
I'm not ringing any victory bells or sighing with relief yet either. It's still early I know! While I may be his first role model, I am by far not, not the only influence in his life. A huge part of adolescence is the journey of separation of the child from their parental influences as they grow and figure out their likes, dislikes and priorities. It is very possible that his friends circle will introduce him to way more cannabis than I use. This, my friends, is when the rubber meets the parenting road. By coming clean and being honest about my cannabis use with my son allows me to reveal my full self to him. In turn, that honesty lends itself to sustaining an authentic bond with him. My hope is that my authenticity with him lets him believe he can be as honest with me, even when he knows I may not like the information or answers he's providing me.
In the interest of keeping the lines of communication open, one day I gave my son my version of a 'safe word' or figure of speech. This would be the coded way he'd communicate the need to tell me something serious, that he may be struggling to get out. This safe expression? "Mom,I think you're gonna need to roll a fat one for this talk". I kid you not. Whenever my son says these words, I'll know I'm to brace myself for impact (and I very likely WILL roll that fat one too, even if I'm too worried to smoke it until he gets it all out).
I'm not at all sure that being so up front and honest about my cannabis use will have been the best path taken in my parenting journey. I don't parent with that kind of confidence I guess. Some things I can be confident about though, is that continuing to hide my cannabis use was never going to be the right answer. I can also be sure that whatever hills, valleys and pitfalls I have left on my parenting journey, some very good weed will always be nearby.