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Guest: Julie Barnhill

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January 09, 2014

The Pot Escape

Culture Challenge of the Week: The Pot Escape

A Colorado family experienced a frightening surprise last week when their toddler, for no apparent reason, became groggy and unable to walk. A trip to the local emergency room found the cause: the child had eaten a cookie from the ground outside the family’s apartment. Only this was no ordinary cookie. It had been laced with THC, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana, and wreaked havoc on the two-year old’s system. Thankfully, she’s now recovered.

Ironically, the incident happened the day before Colorado’s new law legalizing marijuana for personal use went into effect. Apparently some drug users just couldn’t wait and broke out the pot-cookies a day early. While the child’s exposure to pot was apparently an accident, it’s a reminder that, in spite of the reassurances of marijuana enthusiasts, pot is a drug. And like all drugs, it’s harmful.

(It’s one thing for states to work towards more reasonable sentencing and deterrence efforts that prevent youthful offenders from having their lives ruined by an arrest for small-time possession, but it’s another to legalize marijuana and effectively encourage more people to use it.)

Marijuana use is too often treated like a joke. Movies, TV sitcoms, and comedians routinely treat drug use as a typical, expected, if kind of naughty behavior.

Now at least one business is doing the same, in an apparent ploy to win the business of pot-smoking young travelers. Spirit Airlines recently sent out an email with the subject line, “We’re high (at least 30,000 feet).” The email itself continued the theme, saying, “The ‘No Smoking’ Sign is off (in Colorado). Get Mile High with $10 off Flight-Only Bookings…If you want to make a beeline for Colorado right now, we don’t blame you…Book today and be sure to pack some munchies.”

This is funny?

Even when the entertainment world tries to take a serious approach to drug use, it arguably does more harm than good. For example, the popular show “Breaking Bad,” which followed the life of a chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer, arguably normalizes meth use, even while it shows its destructive effects. As one prosecutor wrote in Time, “And while Breaking Bad may not glorify meth in the sense of making it attractive to the average viewer, it does normalize the idea of meth for a broad segment of society that might otherwise have no knowledge of that dark and dangerous world.”

Drug use is no laughing matter. It prevents our children from fully flourishing and it injures them in serious ways. As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last week (“Weed. Been There. Done That”), even marijuana use has undeniable negative consequences: “[I]t is addictive in about one in six teenagers…smoking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed…[and] young people who smoke go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.”

So why do our young people (and some adults) look to drugs, especially pot?

Often they are seeking a way to escape the boredom, hard work, and difficulties of their lives. Sometimes they hope to escape social isolation or loneliness. In many schools, teens tell me, the drug crowd welcomes outcasts and misfits more easily than other cliques. Anyone who does drugs with them is automatically ‘in’. Perhaps they are fleeing from something within themselves or simply avoiding hard work.

How to Save Your Family: Don’t Escape Life, Enjoy It!

In light of the accelerating push to legalize drugs—and to normalize their use—we need to teach our children three important about drugs:

First, don’t use them. Ever.

Second, if pot (or any other drug) seems tempting, dig deeper instead.

What is it that they are really looking for? New friends? Something to do? A way to relax? Our kids need to know there’s a healthy, fun way to find whatever they’re looking for—and they need to know that we will stand by them and help them. Drugs provide a temporary escape, nothing more. And that temporary escape often turns into a dead-end rat-hole, worse than the feelings driving the desire to escape.

Third, be proactive. Life is a gift, to be lived with purpose. Help your children discover their talents, their passion, and their purpose (a process that’s better accomplished with a clear head rather than a drug-induced stupor). Help them set interim goals and mark progress, while they keep their eyes on the ultimate prize. Teach them never to give up. Purposeful hard work is the best gateway to future happiness.

And no matter how many states legalize its use, marijuana will still be a gateway to nowhere.

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