Would you rather your teenage child drink a beer or smoke a joint?
Especially on a day like April 20, nationally recognized as ‘Weed Day’, it’s hard not to notice the monumental surge in Americans embracing weed.
As pro-marijuana lobbyists work for legalization across the US, many have focused on one demographic that’s thought to be particularly influential: parents.
Many of today’s parents grew up in the weed-friendly, hippie era of the 60s and 70s, which begs the question: Will they be more accepting of marijuana for their own kids?
When surveyed, more and more parents say they would rather their teens use cannabis than drink alcohol – but experts say forcing them to pick the ‘lesser of two evils’ doesn’t say much about how they really feel about marijuana.
As more and more Americans embrace marijuana, experts have wondered how the current generation of parents feel about increasing access to the drug from legalization (file image)
How do parents feel about weed?
Parents are split directly down the middle on the question of legalizing recreational marijuana, according to a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 adults in the US by Marist Poll and Yahoo News.
Overall, 56 percent thought that marijuana use was socially acceptable while two-thirds indicated that they thought their own parents would disagree.
Parental opinion was found to vary based on each parent’s personal experience with the drug, half of whom said they had tried and 15 percent used in regularly.
Those who had never tried the drug were much more apprehensive about it whereas those with more experience had more progressive views.
About one in five parents said marijuana use was the number one concern for their child when ranked against other risky behaviors including smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and having sex.
However, it was biggest worry for only 11 percent of parents who had tried marijuana and five percent who used it regularly.
Parents are most concerned about the impact that weed may have on their child’s health, but the poll revealed that more than 70 percent thought it was safer than alcohol and cigarettes.
A similar survey released by Project Know this week revealed that almost 75 percent of parents would rather their child use marijuana than alcohol.
The graph above is based on a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 adults in the US by Marist Poll and Yahoo News, indicating that 49 percent of American parents approve of legalizing weed
The problem with playing ‘Would You Rather?’ for weed and alcohol
One of the key limitations to marijuana opinion surveys, including both polls mentioned above, is that they often look at parents’ opinions of weed as compared to other risky behaviors – rather than asking how they feel about the drug on its own.
Joseph Palamar, a researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at New York University, has been studying trends in drug use for years.
Palamar says: ‘”Would you rather” questions can be informative, but we must keep in mind that oftentimes the real answer is “neither.”‘
Both marijuana and alcohol have been found to cause lasting damage on the teenagers’ brains, albeit in distinct ways.
Palamar said: ‘My colleagues and I found that weed and alcohol are associated with different risks among teens.
‘Alcohol was more likely to lead to fights with significant others, risky driving, and regretful behavior.
‘Weed was more likely, however, to compromise relationships with parents and teachers, possibly due to the illegality and stigma associated with use.
‘Each drug has its negatives.’
When asked about their top concern for their children, only one in five parents said marijuana
Why experts are calling for more, better research
Because it is still illegal in the majority of states, research into the effects of teen marijuana use is limited, especially when compared to that of alcohol consumption.
A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine underscored the importance improving the quality and quantity of research.
‘This growing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis and its derivatives have raised important public health concerns,’ Marie McCormick, chair of the committee said in a statement about the report.
‘As laws and policies continue to change, research must also.’
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the evidence of harm comes from studies of mothers who used the drug during pregnancy rather than ones focusing on teens, 23 percent of whom will try marijuana before the age of 17.
There is a limited but growing number of studies that look specifically at the teenage brain on marijuana, which have found it causes decreased academic performance by inhibiting attention span and problem-solving ability.
Experts are also concerned that those who start using marijuana in adolescence are more likely to develop long-term habits, which have been linked to breathing problems and impaired memory.
In 2018 Utah and Oklahoma are expected to join the 30 states that have already legalized marijuana for medical use as public opinion of the drug becomes increasingly positive
How parental opinions are expected to change down the line
As mentioned previously, the top concern parents had about marijuana was its affect on their child’s health.
These findings lend credibility to the idea that a growing body of research on health effects will be highly influential in shaping opinions of parents, particularly of those who may be on the fence.
Second only to health concerns, the possibility of legal repercussions was top concern for parents in the Marist Poll.
As more and more states move to legalize marijuana, those concerns may be dissipating, potentially skewing overall parental opinion to favor of the drug.
However, a 2017 study of parents in Washington, which voted to legalize in 2012, found that parents were more likely to oppose their children using the drug after legalization.
The researchers hypothesized that the change could be attributed to the fact that before legalization, parents didn’t have to worry as much about access.
On the other hand, a study by Canadian researchers last fall found that parents felt better about their children using after legalization because they could be more open and develop healthier usage habits.