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As Alaska legalizes marijuana, one girl shares her family's story of pot abuse

While critics of pot legalization might point to the risk of kids getting high, one teen points out the ways marijuana abuse by her own parents has shattered her upbringing.

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    This Feb. 20, 2015 photo, shows the Alaska Cannabis Club in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, Alaska will become the third state in the nation to legalize marijuana.
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Tuesday, Alaska officially became the third US state to legalize marijuana. Coincidentally, it's also the day a teenage girl in another state made a speech titled “Marijuana Use and Family Life” for her English class, revealing the abuse and neglect she has suffered all her life as the result of her parent and step-parent’s chronic, illegal, pot use.

As a mom, blogger, and children’s book author, my sons’ friends and classmates will often send me their essays and speeches to proofread. This was one of those times.

I knew this family had issues. The girl’s legal guardian, fellow parents, and this girl herself have told me bits and pieces about their situation, and the Facebook posts I’ve read from the family have filled in many gaps.

Before reading the speech, knowing how rough high school kids can be on someone they consider a party pooper, I asked her if she was really sure she wanted to pick this topic.

She said yes, "because I'm really getting so sick of people being so happy about marijuana getting legalized all over the place. People tell me marijuana's not even a real drug. It is a real drug. It hurts kids when their parents are always high and not taking care of them and this is what I can do about it.”

Then, I read the speech and decided to share some of her insights.

Yes, I know there are many responsible users in legalized states. But for some families, there is a darker side of constant marijuana use.

“I have lived in a household where marijuana use by an adult was an every-day occurrence, this impacted my life in a number of ways,” the girl writes in her speech.  

After addressing the argument of marijuana for medicinal purposes, she writes, “If the person smoking marijuana in a household is a parent it can severely affect his or her judgment.”

In the case of this girl marijuana is not being used medicinally, but recreationally, and continually in what she characterizes as an "addiction."

As a parent, I felt it was important to learn if chronic marijuana use could impair a parent so I checked online and found a Surgeon General's warning and an Alcohol and Drug Service (ADS) fact sheet on the possible effects of short and long-term marijuana use parents who are chronic users may experience. Among them, impaired judgement and decision making; altered perception of time, distance, space, sights, sounds, and touch; lack of motivation; loss of coordination and slowed reaction time; feelings of anxiety or temporary psychosis.

Now I imagine a parent trying to raise children under one or more of the above-listed effects.

Personally, raising four active boys, who have been known to not feel well or potentially injure themselves at any time of day, I have been one to err on the side of having all my faculties in full working order at all times. This young lady covers that in her speech as well.

The heartbreaking portion of her speech is where this teen shares publicly something which she once also told me in tears – that she was sexually molested by her step-father when she was an 8-year old.

While I have paraphrased much of her speech so as to not upset the sensibilities of readers, I feel that one line describing what resulted from telling her mother about being molested must stand for her and all the children affected by parents impaired by drug use.

"My mother, who was on one of her regular highs from marijuana at the time, responded, “Doesn’t it feel awesome?”  

According to her speech and what her other family members have told me, this child never received counseling. The abuse didn’t stop. It was never reported to police. When she, as a teenager, told school staff members she says she was never referred to counseling services.

Yet, through her own determination to free herself by going away to college, she is currently an Advanced Placement student with solid grades.

Some may point to the responsible users of marijuana and dismiss these concerns. But it is my hope that those who are responsible, legal, users of marijuana will work to raise awareness of this kind of abuse that can come with overuse and irresponsibility.  

If you learn that a child is living under duress or being neglected due to a parent or guardian's drug use of any kind, in my experience the best course of action is to inform the school, as well as child protective services, or a local community services board. 

In the case of a teenager in this situation, I know from experience that it can be monumentally frustrating to try to get help for someone else's child because the system is overloaded and appears to be barely handling the very worst cases of abuse.

As the debate over legalizing marijuana continues, could we please expand the dialogue about how parents using any substance that alters their perception, reaction, or acuity should be held accountable for what happens to their child when they enjoying a recreational drug?

I am honored that this teenager shared her story with me before sharing it publicly at her school. My hope is that now, perhaps, more people will consider what recreational marijuana use by parents looks like to their children.

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