This month our guest writer is Steve Pilaff, a sociologist from England, who has been studying the taboos associated with discussing cannabis in society.
I have a secret. I smoke cannabis!
Living with a secret. That’s what life is like for millions of cannabis users the world over. That thing you do, that passion for herb or hashish, that recreational pleasure or medicinal need... is something that you spend much of your life trying to hide.
Speaking to cannabis users, mostly in the UK but also other European countries where cannabis is against the law, one theme comes up time and time again. Users are constantly moderating their conversations and adjusting them depending on the company they are with. They can be honest about their cannabis habit with some people - other users in the majority of cases - but have to hide it from most.
This gets harder the older you get! As one very respectable lawyer in his forties told me, “Sometimes you meet someone new, let’s say at a party, and you suspect they may be a smoker. You spend the conversation looking for clues and end up doing this weird little social dance until you can be sure. And then you’re outside and sharing a joint and connected by being part of this kind of secret club!”
That is not something we get with alcohol. In the UK, where binge drinking is a problem, it is perfectly acceptable to talk about getting ‘paralytic’. We can openly talk about getting ‘smashed’ at the weekend around the water cooler in the office and people will nod, smile and think that is perfectly normal.
Talking to your kids about cannabis
For many users, a major hurdle is the family ‘conversation’. For the Millennial generation (those born around the turn of the century), this is a conversation that takes place (or frequently doesn’t) between children and their parents. For Generation X and Y, this is now a conversation that takes place (or not) between parents and children.
“I always thought I would be honest about my cannabis use with my kids,” says a mother who just turned 39. “But it is hard to have the conversation, especially as drugs education in school is so rooted in a policy of zero tolerance.”
A recent article on Leafly features a discussion between employees of the ‘world’s largest cannabis resource’ about coming out of the cannabis closet to their families. Apparently they share the same uncomfortable realities. Says one, “Harder to talk to kids I think. Because you really have to choose your words carefully and make things as clear and factual as possible. Whatever you tell them will get repeated, processed and passed along to other peers.”
Talking to cannabis consuming parents, this seems to be a common fear – how such a conversation might impact on their child. As one parent told me. “I had the talk with my 12 year old son and he actually took it well. No big deal between us. But now I feel guilty that he has to carry this secret with him in life situations, such as school, where there is a conflict of message. However, in the long run, I think that making it an open discussion can only be of benefit when my son reaches the hedonistic late teen years.”
There is no right and wrong. Unfortunately, despite most cannabis users’ liberal perspective, most of us live in a stigmatized world as far as cannabis is concerned. This makes having the cannabis conversation difficult but, in my opinion, it is a conversation that needs to happen.