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July 30, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Marijuana, parenting and toking in public

When voters ended marijuana prohibition in Washington, we didn’t end the civic duty not to be a public jerk.

Not the place to light up. (Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

Golden Gardens in Ballard: not the place to light up. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

That message hasn’t gotten through. Nearly every parent I know — myself included — has a story similar to one posted on Facebook by my friend Natalie Singer-Velush.

She took three kids — two 8-year-olds and a 7-year-old — for a quick mid-afternoon trip to Golden Gardens on Sunday. Pails, shovels and ice cream in hand, they set up camp… and were enveloped in a cloud of marijuana smoke from three adults sitting upwind just a few feet away.

Natalie, editor of Parent Map magazine, said she didn’t ask them to put out their joint because they planned to stay for just a few minutes. But she stewed about it, and posted this yesterday (emphasis is mine):

As a society we need to have the expectation that adults will carry themselves responsibly — new rights mean new responsibilities. Or maybe it’s a reminder of old responsibilities — expectations that really haven’t changed for 100 years: Setting examples for young people; holding as our collective societal responsibility the mandate to keep young people safe and healthy even when they aren’t our own children; behaving with common courtesy in public.

I voted to approve legal pot, in order to relieve our legal system from its ridiculous burden to criminalize marijuana use (and am half kicking myself now, because what’s best for the state might not turn out to be best for my own family). Legal pot doesn’t mean that on a summer afternoon I want my 7-year-old to get a contact high because some supposed adults cannot contemplate that puffing pot her way might violate an unwritten social code of decency.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Last winter, my son’s middle-school ultimate frisbee match at Cal Anderson Park came to a sudden halt when the kids turned their noses to the marijuana smoke wafting from the nearby skateboard park. I yelled at the tokers to put it out, and was ignored. I support Initiative 502 for the same reasons as Natalie, but left the park wondering what we’d actually done.

I’m not a prude. I’ve been known to discreetly pour a beer into a cup in a public park, and would like to see Washington move further away from its puritanical alcohol laws. The issue of marijuana smoke is the nuisance. As with cigarettes, a person’s vice shouldn’t be foisted onto others, be it on a sidewalk or in a park. It’s all about discretion, and being a good citizen.

We’re also in a new era of legal marijuana, and the public is still coming to grips with its consequences. Blowing pot smoke toward a bunch of elementary-age kids at the beach is an excellent way to chip away at public support. (Check out last week’s Seattle Times guest column: “Legalization did not give people the right to smoke marijuana in public.”)

One response to public pot smoking is for stiffer enforcement. Seattle Police wrote just 82 tickets for public marijuana consumption in the first six months of 2014, which tells me they’re very sporadically enforcing the new law. I’m fine with that low number, because the law is still being levied more heavily against blacks. Enforcement isn’t the simplest answer to those who light up next to families.

Civic responsibility is. If you’re the one smoking, find a nice quiet corner by yourself to exercise your new legal right. Hot box your car. Slip into the woods. Whatever. Just not right in the middle of the kids.

When I asked Natalie why she didn’t confront the smokers at the beach, she said she didn’t want to come off as a “raging prude,” seeming to protect “precious snowflake children.” She said she’d expect to find marijuana smoking at Golden Gardens at dusk. But the experience at the beach changed her reticence, and next time, she said, she’d probably confront them.

I feel the same. I don’t want to be the fun fuzz, but parenting in the age of legal marijuana is tricky. (The University of Washington has a web page to help.) If you force parents to choose between their political views of drug law reform and preserving their kids’ innocence (for a few more years), it’s a no-brainer.

How about making it a little easier, Seattle. Don’t be a jerk.

Comments | Topics: marijuana

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