Explaining Marijuana to My Kids in the Mile High State

In the realm of easy access to marijuana, I live in the land of the free. Here in Denver, there are more marijuana dispensaries than there are Starbucks. You can find a green logo on almost every corner—either the green siren of coffee or the green cross of cannabis. Just last week I was having lunch in Chick-fil-A when a group of high school teenagers passed a marijuana vape around the table. I am raising my children in the Mile High City, in more ways than one.

“Mom, what are drugs? Do you know what they are?” my eight-year-old asked.

I do know what they are, and my child had just given me an on-ramp into a careful dialogue in the car, the setting where I have their most undivided attention. Listen up, gentlemen.

“Drugs are any kind of chemical you put into your body. Some of them are good for you, and some of them are bad. Some of them help you breathe when you have an asthma attack, or stop throwing up when you have the flu, or stop sneezing when you have a cold,” I said. “There are some that make you feel good, really good, for just a few minutes. In those few minutes, they’re destroying your brain. When people use them, they want more of them, and they don’t even care that their brains are falling apart. That actually helps them make wrong decisions because their brains no longer know the right thing to do.”

“Please, can you just promise me right now that you will always do your best to take care of your brains?” I begged.

“Yes. We promise. But Mommy, how do we know if someone is offering us drugs?”

“Well, drugs are not exactly around you all the time.” (Okay, yes they are. But that’s for another cognitive stage.) “You won’t just happen onto them. The best thing for you to do is to be very aware of what you put into your body. If you don’t know what it is or who gave it to you, don’t eat it or drink it or breathe it in. It’s really just that simple.”

“How do people even get drugs?”

Ah. An interesting conversation in this here, the legal state.

“Well, see, there are some people who get super crazy sick. Really sick. And they’re dying, but nothing can make their bodies stop hurting. Nothing except marijuana. Since they are dying anyway, and there’s nothing left for anyone anywhere to do to help them get better, their families wanted to find a way to help them to stop hurting, even for just a few minutes. So they went to the judges of Colorado, and they said, please, can you say it’s okay for our very sick family members to take some marijuana to feel better, for just a little while, since nothing else can fix them? And the judges were very careful and very wise, and they said yes. But only if a doctor says it’s okay.”

I had their rapt attention. “But then what?”

“Well, then other people … people who aren’t sick, decided to take advantage of the system by getting doctors to write notes for them so they could take marijuana even though they’re not sick.” I didn’t tell them yet that it’s now available for recreational use, that Coloradans need permission from exactly nobody to enjoy a good cannabis high. Again, that’s for another cognitive stage.

“So, why didn’t they give that stuff to my dad when he was dying?” Their dad, my first husband, died five years ago from a twelve-hour misdiagnosed illness. Questions like this one are never far away, and yet they come rushing at me in ways that knock the wind from my sails and my feet out from under me.

“Honey, because he was dying really fast. There was nothing they could do to help him, not to save him or even make him feel better for a little while.”

“So, marijuana is relief for people who are dying slowly?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“Sort of like you, Mommy.”


“I mean, maybe not you. But Grandma and Poppa. They’re dying slowly.”

“Honey, they’re not dying.”

“But they’re old. They’re really, really old.” (They’re 60.)

“They’re not as old as they seem to you. And they’re not dying.”

“And so can I tell you why I have all these questions, Mom?”

“Yes, please.”

“Because that grocery store sign said ‘food and drugs.’ And I wondered if it’s safe to go in there.”

Yes. I don’t think anyone is going to force some MJ on them inside Kroger. But then, it is Colorado.