Cross Country Checkup

'We can mitigate the consequences': How parents are grappling with legal pot

With just days until cannabis is legalized in Canada, some parents are struggling with how to talk about it with their kids. Meanwhile, others see it as an opportunity for open dialogue.

Normalization presents parenting challenges for moms and dads on both sides of debate

Signe Knutson, left, is pictured with son Peter, 4. (Submitted by Signe Knutson)

Signe Knutson isn't shy about using marijuana around her kids.

When the mother of four heads to the balcony of her Vancouver home to smoke a joint, she tells her children it's time to medicate.

"I'm not glorifying it. But I do let them know it helps me, and it makes me feel more relaxed and better able to cope with life," Knutson said.

With recreational marijuana use soon to be legal in Canada, parents are grappling with how to educate their kids about a substance long prohibited — and there's mixed opinion amongst moms and dads about the growing normalization of pot.

Knutson, for one, welcomes less restrictive marijuana laws.

A pot smoker since her teens, Knutson was diagnosed with lupus five years ago. She credits marijuana for reducing her dependence on opiates.

Knutson says that legalization will make it easier for kids to speak with parents about consuming marijuana. (Submitted by Signe Knutson)

Her 22-year-old daughter supports Knutson's medical marijuana use, but her son, 14, is averse to it. After a drug information workshop at school, she says he asked why she smoked pot with friends if it was medicine.

"I didn't want to make him uncomfortable with my use so I did curb my use socially, around him especially," Knutson said.

She says she no longer smokes in front of him, instead going for a walk or waiting until he's asleep.

As an artist and marijuana activist, Knutson views smoking weed as normal as having a glass of wine and applauds any policy changes that reduce stigma surrounding cannabis.

'A slippery slope'

However, not all parents are happy to see Canada become the first G7 country to permit a countrywide marijuana market – especially when medical researchers have warned about the harmful effects marijuana can have on teenage brains.

"I don't think it sends a good message to our young people," said John Sun, a Richmond Hill, Ont., engineer and father of two girls aged 10 and 13.

Sun is opposed to marijuana philosophically and morally, and doesn't hide his disdain for legalization around the dinner table.

"We bring up the reasons why we think it's not a good idea, and [that] it might be the beginning of a slippery slope."

We can mitigate the consequences better if kids aren't afraid to discuss it with their parents.- Signe Knutson

His younger daughter doesn't think much about marijuana — other than "it stinks" — but legalization is a hot topic for his opinionated teenager and her peers.

"She's been taught drug use is wrong," Sun said. "But she hasn't been questioning … why is our political leadership pushing for this?"

He says he and other parents are annoyed because they'll be subjected to recreational weed while enjoying the outdoors with their children.

"I'm just not looking forward to smelling it on every corner. Unlike cigarettes or cigars, marijuana has a very pungent smell. It's just not pleasant."

Parenting while stoned?

Even pot smoking parents acknowledge the potential perils of using marijuana around their kids.

"My only concern is making sure it's not accessible to her," said Faisal Butt about his three-year-old daughter. The Toronto-based comedian and actor has smoked marijuana since college.

Butt says he uses weed as a sleep aid, so waits until his daughter is in bed — and he rarely smokes up while parenting.

"It just seems weird. Maybe it's my own paranoia, but sometimes she's just looking at me and I'm like, 'I think this kid knows that I'm high.' That's not a cool feeling for me."

Faisal Butt smokes marijuana, but will discourage his daughter, 3, from using it. (Submitted by Faisal Butt)

Knutson agrees parents should be careful to keep marijuana out of reach of kids, storing it as they would medications or liquor.

"I keep it in the back of the freezer where they're not going to access it [and the CBD] I take in capsules is in childproof medication containers," says Knutson.

As more Canadian parents come out of the closet as pot smokers, there's still debate amongst them about what to do if and when their kids begin using marijuana.

Knutson, who has taken her children to 420 rallies in support of cannabis legalization, says destigmatizing pot helps parents discuss harm reduction strategies with their kids out in the open.

She says she isn't worried about her own teens experimenting.

"We can mitigate the consequences better if kids aren't afraid to discuss it with their parents or their teachers or even with an officer of the law," Knutson said.

Butt, on the other hand, says he'll dissuade his daughter from marijuana use when she becomes a teenager.

"You're figuring things out, you really don't need this addiction," he said.

"I mean, I love [marijuana]. But I'm like, 'Guys, live your life. Go outside, play some sports.'"


Sunday on Cross Country Checkup, we're asking: how do you feel about legal marijuana? Listen on CBC Radio One or watch on Facebook Live at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.

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