One of President Obama's daughters is getting some seriously heat for a video, originally posted on Radar Online, of Malia Obama smoking what onlookers claim was a marijuana cigarette. Shot at Lollapalooza in July, the video appears to show Malia puffing on what could be a short cigarette or a joint. Marijuana was decriminalized in Illinois earlier in July, so she’s legally off the hook, whatever the contents of her cigarette might have been. But the internet is naturally having a field day with the story — especially harping on the what ifs, namely: what if Malia Obama was smoking pot? Now that the images have surfaced, many are curious about what President Obama will do about his 18-year-old daughter reportedly smoking pot. If I were him, I'd do nothing. I wouldn’t mind my kid smoking pot at age 18 in a decriminalized state.
To explain why, first let me outline the facts: According to the Chicago Tribune, people caught in Illinois in possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana will face fines ($100 to $200) instead of jail time. Because the state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, if Obama was smoking pot, she wasn't doing anything illegal. Plus, marijuana is highly unlikely to become addictive, with only 9 percent of users developing serious dependency, according to 2010 report featured in Psychology Today. While a very few people may become unable to function in society, the vast majority of “serious dependency” probably involves snarfing a few extra Doritos and toking it up to deal with stressful situations. According to BuzzFeed, compounds in marijuana called "cannabinoids" are also naturally created in the body (only they're called "endocannabinoids" in humans), and they're partly responsible for telling you that you're hungry or full. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., a behavioral pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins, said that: “Chemicals in marijuana, especially THC, activate this false sense of hunger when they interact with hormones like leptin, a main player in sending out hunger signals. Then you get the munchies." So your kid is unlikely to succumb to reefer madness if they smoke recreationally, including at parties and — gasp! — festival concerts like Lollapalooza.
I’m not worried my sons will develop anything from smoking pot but a serious hankering for some fast food.
I’d worry mightily if I caught my sons smoking cigarettes. Not so much if I caught them smoking pot.
Pot also isn’t as dangerous as cigarettes, according to a 2012 study performed at the University of California San Francisco. After collecting data from more than 5,000 adults in the U.S., researchers found that low to moderate use of marijuana is less harmful to users' lungs than tobacco. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), "cannabis smoke – unlike tobacco smoke – has not been definitively linked to cancer in humans," though NORML does note that extensive research is still needed. Marijuana smoke contains THC (known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (known as cannabidiol), which are both non-carcinogenic. They also, according to NORML, demonstrate anti-cancer properties in vivo (in a living organism) and in vitro (in a test tube). Nicotine found in cigarettes, however, promotes the development of cancer cells and their blood supply, NORML reported. To be honest, I’d worry more about my kids’ health if they were smoking cigarettes.
It’s easy to get addicted to cigarettes and hard to quit (just ask the Commander in Chief himself!). They come with numerous health issues and most significantly, smoking cigarettes raises your risk of lung cancer exponentially. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that, in the United States, smoking cigarettes is linked to 80-90 percent of lung cancer cases.
Since Malia’s father smoked, she probably has a genetic predisposition to nicotine addiction, according to The Endowment for Human Development noted in their report, "Genetic Predisposition and Depression Both Influence Teen Smoking." Because I smoked for years, though not since I’ve had kids, my children may also have that same genetic predisposition. I’d worry mightily if I caught my sons smoking cigarettes. Not so much if I caught them smoking pot.
Obviously I’d worry if I caught my kids with cocaine. I’d worry if I caught them with acid or ecstasy. Those are harder, scarier drugs with possibly scary consequences. But I don't believe pot isn’t going to take them there.
A 2016 April New York Times opinion article claimed that "marijuana is a gateway drug," and the CDC reported that people who are addicted to smoking pot are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin. However, a year earlier, in 2015, Newsweek.com published an opinion piece headlined, "Marijuana Is Not, Repeat Not, A Gateway Drug." In fact, even the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that "the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, 'harder' substances."
As it stands, the whole smoking pot is a gateway drug argument is still very much lacking for me. I believe my kids are not going to immediately progress to blow and heroin just because they started smoking weed. Even though some people do end up using harder drugs, that doesn't predispose everyone to that same conclusion. Obviously I’d worry if I caught my kids with cocaine. I’d worry if I caught them with acid or ecstasy. Those are harder, scarier drugs with possibly scary consequences. But I don't believe pot is going to take them there. Instead, smoking pot is going to take them to the kitchen to raid my refrigerator. Or, if they’re at a concert, they’ll probably just enjoy the light show a lot more.
My main worry with marijuana isn’t health or social ostracism. It’s getting caught by the police. Malia, if she was allegedly smoking pot (and that's a big if), was smart: she smoked in state where small possession of marijuana is decriminalized. My home state, unfortunately, hasn’t followed suit. The penalties for even a small amount of pot can be crushing. Penalties in South Carolina for smoking, growing, selling or trafficking marijuana, or even wearing and owning drug-related paraphernalia could land you anywhere from a civil citation to 30 days or 25 years in jail for a misdemeanor or felony charge.
Most worryingly, a drug conviction can cause loss of federal student aid under many circumstances. While a student has to be in college and actively receiving aid for that to happen — so high schoolers are off the hook, in a way — and it’s become more of a “three strikes, you’re out” penalty — with one year for first conviction, two for the second, and permanent loss for the third — it’s still a loss of aid. College is wildly expensive. My kids would likely have to take time off if they were convicted of simple possession. So, ironically, I'd worry less about my high schooler smoking than my college student.
Also, frankly, I just don't give a damn if my kids smoke pot. They're kids. They're going to try things. And personally, I don't think pot is demonic, or that it impairs you all that much. I'd rather them smoke pot than drink alcohol. To be honest, whether or not they smoke is a really minimal parenting issue for me — more than anything, I want my sons to know that they can come to me to talk about these things. That I won't judge or ground them forever for trying something taboo. If they raid the fridge after a night out with friends, or if they want the light show to be that much more fun, I won't tell them no.