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May 2, 2005 - The Daily Targum (NJ Edu)

Illegal Drug Uses Brings Together Students, Parents

By David Aslan and Jess Ansert

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

On a sunny mid-semester day, Kevin's parents pulled up in front of the small New Brunswick house that he shares with five other University students.

As his parents got out of the car, Kevin ran downstairs to greet them each with a hug.

His parents followed him upstairs to his room, saying hello to his friends sitting in the living room.

They engaged in family chit chat as Kevin, who asked for his real name to be withheld, slowly closed the door to his room.

His parents paid no attention as he took out a small digital scale to weigh about a gram of dry marijuana leaves and placed it in a small plastic bag.

He handed it to his parents without a second thought. He usually charges other students for the illegal plant but not his parents.

This is not an unusual event for Kevin's family. For the past couple years, every member of his family uses marijuana frequently, and it's often an activity that brings them closer together.

Kevin, now a 22-year-old University graduate, isn't the only one.

As students make their way through high school and college, some of them experiment with drugs in the company of their parents. Many of them consider it a bonding experience, even if it only happens once or twice.

"It's something I want to do with my kids," said Kevin, who began smoking marijuana when he was about 16 or 17. "I come home, and I look forward to hanging out with my parents. We'll just get stoned and watch a movie or get together and have dinner."

A friend of Kevin's, who graduated from Rutgers College this year and asked to be identified only as "George," said he had similar experiences with his father, a contractor from Bergen County.

The 22-year-old philosophy major was spending time with his father over the summer and first debated whether or not he should offer him a marijuana cigarette. When he finally offered, his father was hesitant, but decided to go along with it anyway.

"I was like, 'You wanna smoke a joint?' and he was like, 'Aw you're still using that crap?' but after a little while he was finally like, 'Alright I'll smoke a joint with you,'" George said. He though it was a positive experience because it brought him and his father onto a more equal level.

"It was the least father-son thing we had ever done, and it was just like something I would do with my friends," George said. "It wasn't the drugs, but the experience of the situation that was important."

Although it's strongly advocated by anti-drug groups that parents play a crucial role in preventing their children from using any illicit substances, some parents may feel that it's not their business to interfere. According to The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign Web site, many parents believe "there's not much parents can do to stop their kids from 'experimenting' with marijuana."

When confronted with their own child's use of marijuana, it's possible some parents would prefer to look the other way, as long as their son or daughter is being responsible and not abusing the intoxicant. According to The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a pro-marijuana advocacy group founded in 1970 and based in Washington, marijuana doesn't necessarily lead to dangerous behavior like most anti-drug advocacy groups will contend.

According to the group's Web site, "There is no conclusive evidence that the effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent use of other illicit drugs. Statistically, for every 104 Americans who have tried marijuana, there is only one regular user of cocaine, and less than one user of heroin."

Michelle - who is graduating this year as a double major in psychology and Spanish - said her mother never thought she was in any danger either.

"She knew I was just experimenting," Michelle said. "I'm not heavy into pot. I do it once in a while. I never drive under the influence. If she saw me start to do a lot, then she would have a problem with it."

At a certain point, some parents may feel their child is old enough to use marijuana, just as they are eventually old enough to use legal intoxicants such as alcohol or tobacco.

NORML thinks standards like those for legal drugs should be considered for marijuana. According to their guidelines for personal use, "Marijuana, like other drugs, is not for kids. There are many activities in our society that we permit adults to do, but forbid children, such as motorcycle riding, skydiving, signing contracts, getting married and drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco."

Kevin said his parents share the same attitude. When his younger sister tried smoking pot two years ago, they didn't approve.

"They wanted her to be older and more responsible," Kevin said. "They wanted her to get good grades."

Parents also seem to have less of a problem with drugs lately. According to a study done by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, "today's parents see less risk in drugs like marijuana, cocaine and inhalants." The study said 11 percent of parents have reported smoking pot in the past year, while 58 percent admit to trying it in their lives.

Lisa Laipman, a counselor with the Hurtado Health Center, has seen a different perspective on the practice. While some students may find the experience of using drugs with their parents to be positive, for others it can be a source of stress and anxiety.

"If parents are using [a drug] with their kids as just a light-hearted event, I don't hear about it as a clinician," Laipman said. "For the people who come to me, the experience of drug use within the family is a negative one."

"The problems range, sometimes drug use has interfered with a normal life, sometimes it's financial [and] sometimes legal," Laipman said. "A parent or sibling could go to prison. For these students, it's very difficult, very stressful."

When parents feel that moderate drug use is acceptable, they may not know what sort of drugs their son or daughter is using, said Laipman.

"I know parents who have been honest with their kids, telling them 'When I was in college, I tried different drugs.' That's different from using with kids," Laipman said. "The drugs themselves have changed. The potency of pot has changed. Pot today is more likely to cause academic impairment, and it may not be the same experience 30 years ago than it is today."

Kevin - who graduated last May and is now applying to graduate schools - thinks there are many parents who smoke and still feel like they're supposed to keep their kids from smoking.

"In some families, parents smoke, kids smoke, but the parents will scold the kids and will be hypocritical," Kevin said. "It's not the right way to run a household, but it's not the wrong way either."

The pot smoking culture has a strong underground support system with hundreds of Web sites, and a popular magazine dedicated to the substance called "High Times". It seems to be easier for people under the disguise of pen and screen names to come out with their habit and discuss their experiences using marijuana.

Kevin admits the practice is unusual, but he attributes that to social factors.

"[The first time,] it was a little weird, despite [the fact] they knew about it, and I always knew about it. It was weird because it has societal taboo, it's not normally a family thing," Kevin said. "We got over it though, had fun, and then got really hungry."

Laipman said if parents can use their experiences to guide their children towards responsible behavior, it can be beneficial.

"It might seem logical to you or me," Laipman said. "But many kids don't realize you can't smoke pot right before a test [because] it will impair your abilities. If parents can help explain this, sometimes it's helpful."

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