When the girls were small their whimsical questions used to brighten my day, and lighten my load. While coming down the hill into town one particularly fine morning our oldest once asked, “do you think we can see God from here?” I often hear the echo of her voice as I round the same bend making my way into town, searching the horizon for some ethereal being.
Times have changed. While driving to a favorite after school haunt our youngest surprised me recently with a similar random query, “what’s a dispensary, Mom?” Her question did not evoke the same uplifting feeling.
“Well,” I started, “It’s a place where they sell marijuana,” not wanting just then to get into the distinctions between medical and retail use. “That’s illegal,” she quickly countered. Before I could respond, her big sister quipped, “No, it isn’t — at least not in Colorado.” Where do I go from here, I silently wondered. We talked briefly about the fact marijuana remains illegal for kids, and that just like alcohol there are some things better left for adults. Not a particularly deep or satisfying discussion, but just like when they were toddlers, their attention quickly diverted to a different topic, and the conversation shifted accordingly. Like my furtive search for God on the horizon, it lingers.
Before last November’s passage of Amendment 64 the discussion about marijuana was far easier for Colorado parents. Programs like D.A.R.E., and lifestyle education at school could point to the black and white line of illegality when discussing marijuana use. The answers are no longer so simple, and as I sometimes do when unusual questions arise I wondered whether guidance existed on the topic. In this instance, I did not immediately turn to today’s polarized debate because a startling similar situation popped almost immediately to mind, with some history attached.
Surely the post-Prohibition era parents did not have all the answers when the passage of the 21st Amendment ended nearly 20 dry years in our nation. What was a mother to do then, and now?
The end of prohibition marked a radical change in the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol. I was surprised to learn that a number of mothers favored ending Prohibition, including one prominent New York socialite whose efforts landed her on the cover of Time Magazine in 1932. Pauline Sabin, originally a supporter of prohibition, launched the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform believing that ending prohibition would help end the corruption, violence and illegal activities that grew up around banning alcohol — returning the discussion to families. She testified before the House Judiciary committee supporting her claims, “In pre-Prohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper’s license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children.”
Reflecting on my own childhood I realized that even though drugs had long been illegal under a hodgepodge of different laws, it wasn’t until 1970 that the federal government enacted the Controlled Substances Act. When the federal hammer came down on drugs, I was just about our daughters’ age. Although I knew that drugs were illegal, what I really respected and feared more was my dad’s pronouncement he’d tan my hide if he ever had even an inkling I was thinking about drugs. The law was one thing, but Dad was an altogether different deterrent.
Most parents know that selling marijuana to minors remains illegal in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Revenue recently enacted nearly 64 pages of emergency regulations to govern recreational marijuana sales. The regulations outline probable penalties for license violations, explaining “the range of penalties for this category of violation (including sales to minors) may include license suspension, a fine in lieu of suspension of up to $100,000, and/or license revocation depending on the mitigating and aggravating circumstances.” From my vantage point, with two teenagers in the house, not nearly stiff enough, but if had my way the Amendment would not have passed. If I choose to live in Colorado, however, that’s not my present reality, and there’s no legislation I can readily rely upon.
The passage of Amendment 64 adds to the increasingly complex kaleidoscope of questions, and risks our kids face every day. Choices and hazards I could not have imagined at their age. We can’t change their reality, but the Amendment underscores the importance of instilling the internal fortitude they will need to make difficult choices now, and throughout their lives, and the strength required to take personal responsibility for each one. And boy, do I hope they can see God from there.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney who lives outside of Silverthorne with her two daughters. She welcomes your comments at Cindy@visanibargell.com.