The Message Kids Have Heard About Marijuana Through the Years

The Message Kids Have Heard About Marijuana Through the Years

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Being a parent is hard. There are so many things you have to know and so many things you have to be good at. Most of all, you worry about your kids being safe. You don’t want them getting hurt or experimenting with substances that could do damage to their body and/or mind.

For thousands of years the cannabis plant was used medicinally and religiously and if it was spoken of at all, that’s how people talked about it. It wasn’t something most parents worried about their kids being exposed to.

That all changed with the advent of “Reefer Madness”.

Reefer Madness and the 1930s

By the 1930s many states in the U.S. had already banned cannabis in one way or another. But it was all a preview to the main event, the explosion of “Reefer Madness” and the rise of Harry J. Anslinger.

Anslinger used every means at his disposal to stir up controversy and fear about cannabis as a way to secure more power unto himself and the agency he ran, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Backed up by outlandish stories, some good old-fashioned virulent racism and a movie, Anslinger was able to get cannabis prohibited by pushing Congress to approve a very expensive tax stamp, without which cannabis cultivation was illegal.

For kids growing up during the Great Depression and World War II, this was the message driven home by parents and other authority figures whenever marijuana was brought up. Even the slang term “marijuana” is a product of those years and the fear-mongering of Anslinger and his allies.

The Hippies are Coming

The 1950s were a time of an unprecedented economic boom in the U.S. Marijuana was not something that was talked about; it was relegated to being brushed off as something minorities and bad kids did. Good kids steered clear. But the 1960s were different. A decade of hope was riddled with assassinations, racial unrest and the destructive specter of the Vietnam War. By the end of the decade the country was coming apart at the seams, older generations on one side and the dope-smoking younger generations on the other.

Marijuana was something hippies and war protestors did. Not respectable kids who wanted to have any kind of future. As it often did in those days, politics and cultured collided violently when President Nixon declared the “War on Drugs”, instituting 40+ years of destructive power that has cost over $1 trillion and has ruined tens of millions of lives.

Carter, Reagan and “Just Say No”

A slight lull in the demonization of cannabis occurred in the late 1970s, to the point where nationwide decriminalization was discussed in the halls of power. But the lull was short lived and came to an abrupt end in 1980 when Ronald Reagan trounced President Carter at the ballot box and rang in a new era of reefer madness.

The “Just Say No” campaign of first lady Nancy Reagan reversed any notion of not using fear-mongering when discussing marijuana with kids. Through the use of anti-marijuana PSAs and the D.A.R.E. program in public schools, authority figures hammered home the “facts” as they saw them: that marijuana was a dangerous, lung cancer-causing, brain cell-killing, gateway drug to death and Hell.


From the 1980s until very recently, “Just Say No” and the D.A.R.E. program were the bedrock of how most parents discussed marijuana with their kids. Myths persisted and were passed on, generation to generation.

The Rise of the Internet

Like they had since the 1930s, most parents stuck with some form of the marijuana-is-dangerous-so-you-should-stay-away-because-only-bad-kids-do-marijuana storyline well into the 21st century. But the rise of the World Wide Web created a parallel track of information, one that operated independently of all authority figures and rebuffed all attempts to try and control it or suppress the truth it was spreading.

As the Internet grew, more and more parents either 1) began to realize that what they were telling their children was no longer having the desired effect or 2) began to realize that what they had been told – and what they were telling their children – was flat-out wrong.

Try as they might, those fighting to keep the fear and stigma that has surrounded marijuana for so many decades intact have found their message falling on less receptive ears. To be a teenager in 2016 is to live unaware of a life without the Internet. To be a parent in 2016 is to live with no excuse as to why you are ignorant of the truth about cannabis.

Avenues of information are not restricted like they were 30 years ago; in fact, to someone with an Internet connection, the avenues are not restricted at all. This entire world of instant and global information sharing stands next to a smaller world filled with people who cling to information that became outdated decades ago.

The Social Media Revolution

Within the rise of the Internet and global information sharing is another revolution, possibly the most influential one in human history: social media.
Billions of people communicate their thoughts, feelings and opinions to each other every day. Many of those people have children and in this day and age all parents will eventually have to answer the question: what did you/are you going to tell your children about marijuana?

Via Twitter:

Via Email:

“I have taught my children the truth when it [comes to] marijuana.  As a parent, I don’t want to see my children do things that harm themselves, have considered when it comes to being exposed to many of the drugs that are out there in the world including alcohol.  I taught my children that hard-drugs and alcohol is more harmful and I will not tolerate hard-drug use.  But when it comes to marijuana, it is much safer.

My 16 year old has been curious about marijuana, and I have smoked 1 with her as I believe it is safer to let your kids try things in my home instead of the streets.  She is against drugs like coke, crack, meth and seen the damage that those drugs have done in our community as far as crime, poverty, and death.

My younger child, who is 9 today, learned that marijuana is a medicine mom uses to help with her belly issues.  Using reading materials like ‘it is just a plant’, my child understand that mom’s medicine is illegal even though it is a plant that grows.  He sees how it helps Mommy feel better.

I talk openly and honestly with my kids about it.  I have called ‘bulls**t’ with them when the education system tries to teach them that marijuana is bad.  The myth of it being a gateway drug I have also explained to them it is bulls**t and explained to them why I feel like that.

When it comes to use, I try to let my kids know to talk to me and they have.” – Dawn

It’s Just a Plant

It’s Just a Plant is a children’s book about marijuana. “It follows the journey of a young girl as she learns about the plant from a diverse cast of characters including her parents, a local farmer, a doctor, and a police officer”, according to the website for the book. It shows a young girl several different perspectives on marijuana and is meant to trigger a conversation and information sharing between parents and their children about the plant.

In the end, that’s what is needed. Parents must have a frank discussion with their kids about cannabis. No hyperbole, no fear-mongering, just hard facts and good advice. Kids are going to experiment and even though they should wait until they are an adult, cannabis is safer than most things they can experiment with.

And if you lie to your children about marijuana and they find out – which they can easily do – what other things that you have told them are they going to stop believing?

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