They car pool in Crestmoor, read bedtime stories in Washington Park, and when they're away from the kids, these Denver moms sometimes retrieve the hidden baggie, pack a pipe or roll a joint, and smoke a little weed.
"It slows me down," says a Washington Park 40-something mother of a 10-year-old daughter. "It's a nice, relaxing, low-key thing."
One Denver psychologist, the 46-year-old mother of a young child, smokes because it helps her find "that space that is so about me and not about being a parent."
"It helps you stop thinking," says a 37-year-old Crestmoor mother of two, a mildly conservative Republican who, like most of the women interviewed, smokes once or twice a week. "I either can't sleep at night because I'm restless, or I can't get in the mood with my husband because my mind is spinning."
Her favorite pot-delivery method? Homemade brownies.
It wasn't just the stereotypical pot smoker -- the 22-year-old skateboarding slacker who measures his days in bong hits, or the hippie sucking back joints from the back of her 1968 VW Bus -- who was among the 58,866 Denver residents the city's election commission says voted in November to pass the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative.
These marijuana-loving mamas helped make Denver the first city to legalize small amounts of pot for private adult use. Under state and federal law, however, possession of marijuana remains illegal, and that is why the women were unwilling to have their names printed.
Pundits galore characterized the yes vote on the initiative as merely symbolic. But it didn't lack meaning to these moms. Marijuana, they say, should be legalized, and the vote is an important first step.
Among other things, the vote "shows just how many pot smokers there are in this city," says a 37-year-old Park Hill publicist, the mother of two young children.
The moms trumpet pot as a safe, healthy alternative to alcohol. Marijuana critics say they're fooling themselves.
"They are sending those kids a message that it's OK to get high, and they intend to send that message," says Dr. Mary Holley, the director of Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine, in Alabama. The physician works to organize mothers against all illegal drugs. "That's an extremely destructive message." Through their habits, the moms tell their kids that "if he has a problem, he can just go out and get high."
Pot is not harmless, says Christian Hopfer, a psychiatry professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Smoking pot can cause lung cancer, he says, and lead to addiction. (About 8 percent of people who try it become addicted.) Some studies show it can precipitate mental illness, although the incidence is rare. And it does affect judgment and motor skills, he says.
"You could have trouble driving" while stoned. "You're not going to be sharp as you would be otherwise."
But Hopfer is not surprised by pot-smoking among moms.
"Marijuana use is widely distributed throughout the population," he says. "It's not just limited to certain classes."
The moms say they smoked grass more frequently when they were younger. Now, most of them puff away occasionally at a party or at home on a Saturday night.
Many people are capable of smoking pot the same way many drink booze -- in small doses, in certain settings and not to excess, says Hopfer.
But just as alcohol breeds desperate alcoholics, those who smoke pot range from sporadic users to addicts. With both substances, Hopfer says, some users are capable of indulging without unraveling their lives.
The Park Hill publicist says she gets "very introspective and very thoughtful" when she smokes from her pipe.
"You smoke some weed, you are laughing," she says. "It brings me back to the times when I was so much more carefree. I'd much rather do that than sit in a smoky bar and drink liquor with my friends."
The Washington Park mother says she doesn't know anybody in her age bracket with children who doesn't smoke pot. In fact, she says, "I know very few people who don't" smoke marijuana, including chief executives and lawyers.
The Park Hill mother says she sometimes goes to parties "with moms and pot brownies. There are babysitters for the kids. It's OK to laugh and carry on with your girlfriends."
At the parties the Crestmoor mother attends, full of middle- aged professional parents, a pot contingent usually thrives somewhere in the house, if not all over the place.
Many of the moms have not disclosed their grass-inhaling secrets to their kids. The kids are too young, they say, and might not absorb the main message the moms want to send when they do get around to some frank talking: that smoking marijuana is for adults.
Young brains, the moms say, can't handle marijuana. Like sex and alcohol, the decision about whether to take a toke should be reserved for people with proper seasoning: old enough to vote, finished with high school, stepping into adulthood.
A 36-year-old, laid-off information technology professional wants her 12-year-old daughter to wait until she's 25 to even think about smoking pot.
But that hasn't stopped the north Denver mom from inhaling in front of the girl. She first got stoned around her daughter when the girl was 9 at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, an annual bacchanal that attracts thousands of artists, oddballs and thrill-seekers.
"I don't really care because it's her decision," says the woman's daughter, sitting on a couch, knitting, in her home.
The girl says she has no interest in trying the drug herself, in part because, "I'm not supposed to."
Her mom says she has been routinely smoking pot since she turned 19. Her own father, she says, gave her an ounce of pot for Christmas; he had quit smoking the stuff and thought she would like it.
"I think it was a bad decision on his part," she says.
Still, she loves her weed. Pot, she says, is "a part of who I am. It's fun. It's a way to connect. It's like having a beer with someone. It's less harmful than alcohol, it's not fattening, it's ultimately cheaper. Alcohol is so bad for your body."
If her daughter ever chooses to try a mind-altering drug, the mom hopes she elects marijuana over alcohol, a sentiment echoed by the other moms.
"I'd much rather have her smoke pot than drink because she'll be much less likely to get into bad situations," says the Crestmoor mother, who does a lot of smoking with her husband while in their outdoor hot tub.
As the pot-smoking moms' kids get older, how -- and when -- do the moms plan to broach the subject of their weaknesses for weed?
"That's going to be a hard one," says the psychologist. "I hope what I'll do is not lie, but talk about safety and age. I'm sorry that I started (smoking) so early (she took her first puff in seventh grade). I think I missed some important developmental stages."
The Washington Park mother also believes she started too young, at age 13.
"You need to have wisdom," she says. "It's like you shouldn't be out there having sex when you are 13."
The psychologist says she'll probably wait until her daughter reaches a not-yet-determined age to break the joint-puffing news. Once she's at the appropriate age, the psychologist says she'll either wait until her daughter asks her about it or her daughter starts showing signs she may be interested in trying the drug herself.
None of the moms is too bothered by the specter of the police. While they all understand that smoking grass remains illegal in Denver, they also agree that the vote on Initiative 100 illustrates Denver's laissez-faire attitude toward weed.
"Now that it's passed," says the Crestmoor mom, "I'm more comfortable talking about it because so many people voted for it."
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