Parent’s Perspective | A few weeks before COVID-19 became national news, I went to a cannabis dispensary for the first time with my friend Amy who lives in New York City. They don’t have cannabis dispensaries there. It amazed me that we had something in Los Angeles that New York City didn’t have.
The shop we visited looked like a cross between an Apple store and Dylan’s Candy Bar. It had edibles and topicals and tinctures, all colorfully packaged and labeled in bright colors. Little piles of marijuana leaves were laid out in glass cases and labeled with names like “Red Sundae,” “Lava Flower” and “Snow Dream.”
Amy bought $300 worth of cannabis souvenirs for her friends in New York City. “Don’t you love living in Los Angeles?” she asked me. “You can come here every week and pick out goodies.”
But I don’t. I don’t go to pot shops every week and I don’t appreciate the availability of all these “goodies.”
Before the coronavirus was attacking people’s lungs, we had another scourge attacking the lungs of young adults: the vaping epidemic. I thought about telling Amy about the vape pens and cartridges and devices I found in my oldest child’s room back when she was in high school.
I had to take pictures of the stuff and text them to a musician friend because I didn’t know what they were. I thought about explaining how we made her go to the police station and sit in a folding chair between her father and me while an officer explained what can happen to people under the influence — even if they are “faded” and even if they are 17. All of this felt extra to our kid but right to us.
To Amy, who lives in New York and doesn’t have pot shops on every corner, I get how it seems fun. But to me, who, for a year, felt like I was trapped in a bad “Afterschool Special” playing the Mom, it doesn’t seem so great.
We got lucky. Our daughter got into college on the East Coast and packed up her winter clothes and some hard-won life lessons and is thriving now. But her story could easily have gone in a different direction. I don’t know if pot is a “gateway drug,” but you don’t have to watch the film “Beautiful Boy” biting back tears to know that from a little problem can grow life-changing trouble before you, the parent, even know the seed has been planted.
A few months ago, our 16-year-old was found with a vape pen. I was furious. I was so furious I stayed quiet the entire 30-minute ride home from his high school. He sat next to me in the passenger seat. “Mom, I’m sorry,” he said. “It was a stupid thing to do.” I looked at him and said, “I don’t want to say anything I will regret, so I am not going to talk right now.” I had a pit in my stomach thinking, “Not this again.”
As we got into our neighborhood, we drove by a billboard that featured a woman with pink and yellow rainbow hair and silver eyebrows, with a large, bubble-lettered sign that read “Kushy Punch.”
If I was 16 and everybody was vaping strawberry nicotine or Red Sundae cannabis or whatever Kushy Punch is, I’m sure I’d want to do it too. I grew up in the 1980s and we smoked pot in high school. I got it mostly from friends and my parents didn’t pay much attention — it was the ’80s. But the marijuana wasn’t particularly potent. We didn’t smoke it through USB ports. It wasn’t promoted on every corner or by every social media influencer (we didn’t have social media or influencers back then). It was a simpler time. But maybe every generation thinks that.
I didn’t want to ruin Amy’s cannabis shopping spree. And I don’t think dispensaries are the root of the teen weed issue. But once your kid has a problem with drugs, the ubiquity of pots shops and how cool they look and their pervasive promotion across the city can feel disturbing. It’s as if the schools and public health professionals and parents are giving kids one message and the billboards that litter the city are giving them another. Which seems cooler to a 16-year-old? Earnest mom talks or rainbow billboards? When I was a kid, I know which one I would have chosen.