Words by Bailey Rahn
The holidays are upon us once again. When classes are out and the work week breaks into vacation, many of you will be making a pilgrimage back home to parents and family. This time of the year always reminds me of the day I took my first step out of the cannabis closet by telling my parents – my conservative, religious parents – that I used cannabis.
Coming out is a much less scary thing here in the Pacific Northwest, where both medical and recreational cannabis is legal. However, in other areas of the U.S. where attitudes toward marijuana are more closed off, it can feel a lot like you’re turning yourself in. But if you’re living productively and successfully, there’s no better way to change people’s minds about cannabis than by being a living, breathing counter-example of Reefer Madness stereotypes.
In the same way that public demonstrations of support and pride helped fuel the LGBT rights movement, coming out for cannabis also generates momentum as it normalizes and humanizes the issue. If you’re thinking about making that public proclamation to those closest to you, here are a few tips to help it go as smoothly as possible.
Step 1: Determine the Appropriate Time and Place
With sweaty palms, a racing heart, and a beet-red face, I finally unleashed the secret I’d been keeping locked away in an airtight, smell-proof container these last several years. It was a small Thanksgiving dinner with only my parents and siblings, and as full plates of food turned to crumbs, I knew it was now or never.
When you decide to make the move for yourself, consider who will be present and what the general mood will be. For me, that was a holiday dinner with just my immediate family. Spirits were high, bellies were full, and wine glasses were empty. I knew there’d be plenty of time to talk it out, and my siblings were there should I need any their support.
If the spontaneous bomb-drop “We need to talk about something” angle seems unnatural, segue from a relevant conversation. Maybe your state will be voting on a marijuana initiative, or a family member is complaining about a symptom that could be treated with medical cannabis. Whatever your point of entrance may be, just make sure it’s done in a comfortable environment with enough time to discuss.
Step 2: Be Prepared for Unexpected Reactions
“So I got a job…at a cannabis website.” It was out. I waited for their disappointed reaction with tense muscles, waiting for some kind of verbal slap. But when I looked up, my parents smiled and gave sincere congratulations. When I told them I also used it and had been since I was 21, they were no less supportive and spirited. Okay. Well. That was unexpected.
Your family may surprise you by their reaction, especially if you’re expecting the worst. If you’ve never had a conversation with them about cannabis before, try it out to gauge where their opinions are. Had I done that earlier, I’m sure I would have had no problem coming out from the start.
But what if your parents react negatively?
Step 3: Explain the Impact Cannabis Has Had on You Personally
My parents never demanded an explanation for my cannabis use, but I gave myself a soapbox anyway. I told them it helped with my ongoing medical struggles. It helped my mood. It kept me engaged with hobbies and rekindled my love for the outdoors.
This is the possibly the most important step in coming out of the cannabis closet. If cannabis is bettering your life in some way, testify to that. It may take time for your parents to come around if they still cling to preconceived notions about marijuana, but your example and conviction could be the thing to change their minds.
Step 4: Be Educated About Its Health Risks and Benefits
Both of my parents work in medicine but had very little knowledge of why cannabis helped certain conditions or the breadth of therapeutic compounds offered. When my 90-year old grandparents later came to visit, this was about the only angle I could use to get them to understand why I was so passionate about a drug they were taught to hate.
Here’s your chance to make an impact. Be responsive to their challenges and questions. Tell them about emerging cannabinoid research, smoke-free methods of consumption, and how more mainstream medical organizations are coming out in favor of medical marijuana. Balance your knowledge of the benefits with your awareness of the risks, and explain how those risks are often massively overstated by government agencies.
If you’re not sure of where to begin collecting persuasive ammunition, you can gather ideas and materials from Leafly’s Cannabis 101 articles.
Step 5: Comply with Cannabis Laws and Regulations
If you’re using cannabis illegally, that may concern the parents. They certainly don’t want to see you get into any trouble, but if you live in a state without legal recreational or medical marijuana, taking a stand is that much more important. How else are you going to inspire change?
If you aren’t comfortable revealing incriminating details, the best thing you can do is to simply state your opinion on the issue. Be educated about the effects legalization has on public health, incarceration rates, underage use, and so on.
For more information on your state’s marijuana laws, refer to our State of the Leaf map.
Step 6: Be Understanding of Your Family’s Feelings
The hardest part about coming out to your parents in support of cannabis is knowing they may disagree with your choice entirely. I was lucky to have understanding parents who align with me on this issue, but unfortunately there are loads of family members out there who will be disappointed, hurt, or worried by your decision.
Ideological differences are always going to exist between generations and individuals, and while it’s important to remain steadfast in your attitude toward cannabis, know that your family may always feel differently. Responding with respect and understanding is the absolute best way for you to close the conversation, but who knows? They may come around once they process what you’ve told them. After all, there’s a reason public opinion toward marijuana is changing so rapidly.
Have you already come out to your parents? Share your experiences, advice, and inspiration in the comments section below. To those of you still biding your time, we wish you the best of luck whenever you feel ready to have “the talk” with your loved ones.