Video by Brian Prowse-Gany
It was Thanksgiving afternoon in Madison, Conn., four years ago, and the Cecchi family was getting ready for dinner. Just before the turkey was served, Paige Cecchi, then an 18-year-old college freshman, gave her older sister, Lauren, “the look,” Paige remembers. “Then we realized Dad had caught ‘the look,’” she says of her father, Mike, who is now 66. “And Aunt Denise picked up on ‘the look.’”
Wordlessly, and much to their collective surprise, about half of the assembled guests headed out to the chilly patio, where they lit up a joint and smoked marijuana together as a family for the first time. “Pass, pass, puff,” Mike describes it. “Pass, pass, puff. Everyone is looking out the window at us.”
Whom do you smoke with? That is one measure of social acceptance of weed, and when it comes to parents smoking recreationally with their children, an exclusive Yahoo News/Marist Poll finds it to be far more common than one would think, but not nearly as common as, say, families sharing a bottle of wine.
The younger the children, the less likely this is to happen. Of those parents in the survey who say they use marijuana (which is 18 percent of all parents), 93 percent say they do not smoke in front of children younger than 18 years of age. In contrast, nearly half of parents of adult children — 47 percent — say they have used marijuana with and/or in front of their kids. On the flip side, only 26 percent of adults say they have used the drug with or in front of their parents. This discrepancy likely reflects the fact that a greater proportion of millennials currently use marijuana than baby boomers.
So while it’s not the norm, the family that smokes together is a glimpse of a possible future, should trends toward legalization and acceptance continue. The survey reveals that it is less taboo now for Americans who have had experience with marijuana to be open with family and friends.
“It’s more relaxed than when I was their age,” Mike Cecchi says of the fact that he could not imagine sharing a joint with his own father when he was a teenager in the 1960s but now does so regularly with his daughters. “There’s still a stigma, because the law hasn’t changed everywhere, but it’s so much less than it used to be.”
In that way, he is typical of his generation, the poll finds, because 72 percent of baby boomers say their parents did not even talk about marijuana with them, while today, only 28 percent of parents say they have not had that talk with their kids.
Mike began using weed in 1966, when he was 18, he says, and has continued to use it throughout his life, though he hid it from his children for many years — smoking only in his bathroom and opening the window to dissipate the smell. In retrospect, there were hints, his daughters say now. (Paige and Lauren’s grown brother smokes rarely and declined to be interviewed for this article. Their mother, who the family says prefers wine to weed, also chose not to be included.)
First Lauren, now 28, started to notice that “when I was in high school … when I had a party, I might find [Mike] outside with the high school crowd.” Then there was the time that Paige, now 23, vacationed in Jamaica with her parents when she was a high school sophomore. They took a tour of Bob Marley’s house, Paige remembers, and “my dad’s the first on line” at the cannabis store there.
“That’s when I first started to figure out he might” have some experience with the drug. She would not be the first to figure such a thing out. Many Americans who use marijuana, 62 percent, think their parents have at least tried it.
After the Jamaica trip, Mike’s use became a sort of open secret in the Cecchi house. He continually reminded his children that possession of the drug was (and still is) illegal in Connecticut and that they should not drive while under the influence of any substance. At the same time, though, “we had this quiet understanding that we all enjoyed cannabis,” Paige says. “But we kept it to ourselves.”
Agrees Mike: “I didn’t go out of my way to say, ‘I have it, so you can have it.’ They were going to have to find their own.”
Other parents report the same “don’t ask, don’t tell” dynamic. But, in fact, 60 percent of parents who use marijuana say their children are aware of it, and 72 percent of adult users say their parents are aware.
“Until the past couple of years, we have persisted with the slightly awkward, slightly humorous lie to our children that we don’t indulge,” says a Los Angeles lawyer, the father of two college-aged children, who, like many interviewed for this story, asked that his name not be used because even though possession of marijuana was made legal in California on Election Day of last year, he feared a possible tightening of federal enforcement under the Trump administration. “It was this knowing charade.”
The transition from unspoken to out in the open varies from one family to the next. For the Cecchis it came when each daughter was in high school, and Mike told them directly, “I know what you’re doing,” Lauren remembers. He made no effort to stop them from smoking, she says, but he did make it clear that they should do so carefully. The family rule was that a cellphone call from Mom or Dad must be returned within 15 minutes, the Cecchi parents’ way of monitoring their children’s partying. “If Dad called you and you were so messed up that you couldn’t speak, that would have been the end,” Lauren says.
For the L.A. lawyer, the moment of acknowledgment came when his then-high-school-aged daughter came home one night “and found me smoking out back with a buddy.” After that, they developed a winking goodbye routine when she went out for the evening.
“Don’t drink and drive,” he would say.
“I don’t drink and drive,” she would answer.
“Don’t smoke weed and drive.”
“I don’t smoke weed and drive.”
“Don’t do coke and drive.”
“I don’t do coke.”
The step beyond, to parents and children smoking together, is apparently still a greater hurdle, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of parents say they never cross it.
“When they’re little, you tell them there are things that are just for grownups,” says one Colorado mother of two young adults, who have hinted that they would like to indulge as a family. At least she thinks they are hinting. She hasn’t allowed the conversation to proceed far enough to be sure. Yes, hers is one of eight states plus Washington, D.C., in which recreational use of the drug is legal, but she is still reluctant.
“Now they are adults, so I guess now I think there are things that are just for grown-er grownups,” she says. “I wouldn’t have sex with my kids in the room, and I feel the same about getting high.”
“That would be weird,” said a 30-year-old medical marijuana patient outside the New England Treatment Access dispensary in Brookline, Mass., one of seven currently operating in that state, of using weed with one’s family. Though he assumes that his parents have used weed recreationally, he says he has not told them that he has a prescription card for the drug. (He would not say what condition he is being treated for. Massachusetts has a short list of named illnesses that qualify for medical marijuana and also a provision that covers “other debilitating conditions as determined … by a patient’s certifying physician.)
“I’m not sure my family is evolved enough to do it together,” he said.
For the Cecchis, the decision to do so was spontaneous, when they went out to the patio before Thanksgiving dinner. “It wasn’t just us,” Mike says, noting that a number of aunts, uncles and cousins joined in. “There was enough of us out there that it had to be half the party.”
Now the family members not only use cannabis (their preferred term, as it has more medicinal connotations and fewer “stoner” ones, they say) when they gather socially but are going into the cannabis business together. Paige works for Women Grow, a group that encourages female ownership of cannabis-based companies, and also is developing her own line of marijuana accessories. Lauren is a handbag designer whose line includes designs that incorporate the symbol of the marijuana plant. And Mike, whose career has been in pharmaceutical sales, is an adviser and investor.
Not so for the L.A. lawyer. Smoking with the parents was his older daughter’s idea, he says. His wife was neutral on the subject, and he was at first reluctant, but he agreed because his daughter seemed to think it would be a bonding experience.
It was not.
“After a short while, she left us and went out with her friend,” he says. “She wasn’t really interested in the experience of it with us as much as she wanted to check it off her bucket list.”
Read more from the Yahoo News Weed & the American Family series: