This piece originally appeared on The Spinoff Parents
A public referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use may be held by the 2020 election as part of a possible agreement between the Green and Labour parties. One mother shares her own story to explain why she's desperately hoping legalisation won't happen.
It's a highly unpopular opinion for a 30-something year-old parent to have. It's why I can't put my name to this story. I am the odd one out of almost all of my friends and my family: I don't smoke marijuana and I don't want it legalised.
When I smell marijuana – which is fairly often despite it being an illegal substance in New Zealand – I feel sick to my stomach. I often break into a cold sweat and it can sometimes, on vulnerable days, trigger a panic attack.
I grew up around marijuana. The smell alone takes me back to that childhood of lazy neglect.
My parents were white and educated. My father held respectable positions in business. My mother was a stay-at-home mother and occasionally worked. They were middle to upper class. And they smoked marijuana constantly. As did all of their white, wealthy friends.
In the car on the way to school my mother would smoke her "special cigarettes". I have no idea what impact all of the second-hand smoke has had on me. I often remember feeling foggy at school.
In the evenings my father would come home stinking of weed. He would smoke on the drive home. Then he would smoke with my mother when he got home.
I never had a bed-time story as they were usually asleep on the couch or zoned out in front of the television. I was often left at school or weekend activities for hours on end because they'd forget to pick me up. They forgot birthdays so regularly I just got used to not having birthday parties. I never invited anyone over because I was so embarrassed.
It was always obvious that my parents were stoned. Stoned people insist they don't change when they smoke. They insist that alcohol is "worse" as if that even matters at all. Or that a joint is the same as a beer. They promise you that a joint isn't even noticeable.
They still say that to me and my siblings, we who spent our whole childhood trying to hold conversations with parents who were constantly high.
I have never smoked willingly because I can see how idiotic people are when they're high. They're boring, morose and slow – or worse, frightening in their inability to interact with others. When you're a child and the person who is meant to protect you is like this, it's terrifying.
One of my prevailing thoughts as a child was "Why am I am so terrible that my parents have to get high to be around me?" My whole life I have tried to change that voice in my head. But it's so difficult.
When you're a child of a stoner parent you constantly think 'Am I so boring that they need drugs to interact with me? Am I such an awful child that to even bear to spend time with me they can't be sober?'
I have talked to parents as a parent myself and heard them say having a spliff is just like having a glass of wine. I have held my tongue, knowing their child will know that they're high. And that child might be developing the same internal monologue I had.
When they complain about "other" druggie parents I wonder if they ever consider that they're no different. That the only thing separating them is that for some reason we have allowed the people who enjoy marijuana to decide it's harmless. I wonder what their children would say if we asked them whether marijuana should be legalised?
I lived in constant fear that my parents would be arrested. I should have realised that because they weren't brown it was unlikely the police would look at them. They had power and influence so it was OK for them to smoke. Still, the roots of my anxiety, of being afraid every time I saw a police officer, started then. Maybe I was also paranoid from all of the second-hand smoke.
I was never given an option as a child as to whether I wanted to take this drug. My parents and their friends smoked it around me often. I see many parents these days claim they don't smoke around their children but they'll often smoke outside with their children clinging to their knees or they'll hug their children tight at night with that disgusting smell clinging to their clothes.
What will it be like if we legalise? Don't you wonder what message it will send to children? Or doesn't that matter?
I worry that legalisation will continue to perpetuate the myth that it's a harmless drug. I worry that children will once again be voiceless in the face of stoned parenting. It will become the norm for many.
If marijuana is legalised, it will be even more inescapable than it is now. I already have to deal with smoking at concerts – stoners feel they have the right to do this, then they laugh at the idea they're getting others high.
This attitude is depressingly common. I remember in high school a group of boys laughing hysterically at me as I sobbed in a car as it was hot-boxed. I tried to get out and they'd locked the doors. They thought it was hilarious that I hated marijuana and didn't smoke it.
When I came home that night, woozy, ill and still sobbing, my mother was in the kitchen with a joint in her mouth. Her mental health had been destroyed by decades of heavy smoking. She didn't even notice I'd come in even when I started talking to her. I felt so alone and it led to my first suicide attempt.
As an adult I've eaten birthday cake with weed in it. This was apparently a hilarious joke. I was "uptight" for not thinking it was funny. Nothing about marijuana is funny to me. My sibling began smoking marijuana at 13. They're now in their 30s and they've never stopped. Another sibling has managed to get clean at 30 after a decade and a half of severe substance abuse. Both started their drug taking with my parents' stash.
Yet still, despite these experiences, I would never publicly share this as it's seen as outrageous these days not to support the legalisation of marijuana. You're no fun! You need to chill out! It's just like wine!
For what it's worth, I do support the medicinal use of marijuana. And I think questions do need to be asked and answered about how marijuana convictions are used as a tool to disenfranchise and oppress young brown people in this country.
But I do not, and cannot, support legalisation. I have seen first-hand the harm. I have seen what it does to children. I have seen what it does to adults. It feels like a desperately lonely position to hold among my age and peer group; almost all the adults I know whose parents smoked a lot are now heavy users themselves. This is understandable – it's often the same with the children of alcoholics. I don't blame them. How could I?
Seeing my parents smoke made me never want to touch it, but the loneliness that I felt in the face of their drug-induced neglect turned me to alcohol. It took me a long time to get that under control. There are scars.
And maybe that's all I want people to consider. I want them to think of those scars that so many of us hold and wonder whether legalisation is the right thing.
And maybe also a plea: if you rely on marijuana to parent, ask yourself what effect that has on your children. Because I promise you, it has an impact.