DENVER — Michael Jolton was a young father with a 5-year-old son when Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000. Now he's got three boys, the oldest near adulthood, and finds himself repeatedly explaining green-leafed marijuana ads and "free joint" promotions endemic in his suburban hometown.
"I did not talk to my oldest son about marijuana when he was 8 years old. We got to talk about fun stuff. Now with my youngest who's 8, we have to talk about this," said Mr. Jolton, a consultant from Lakewood.
A marijuana opponent with a just-say-no philosophy, Mr. Jolton, 48, is among legions of American parents finding the "drug talk" increasingly problematic as more states allow medical marijuana or decriminalize its use. Colorado and Washington state have measures on their Nov. 6 ballots that would go a further step and legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults.
Parent-child conversations about pot "have become extraordinarily complicated," said Stephen Pasierb, president of the Partnership at DrugFree.org, which provides resources for parents concerned about youth drug use.
Legalization and medical use of marijuana have "created a perception among kids that this is no big deal," Mr. Pasierb said. "You need a calm, rational conversation, not yelling and screaming, and you need the discipline to listen to your child."
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, says the family conversations "are becoming a lot more real" because most of today's parents likely tried marijuana themselves.
"Parents know a lot more about what they're talking about, and kids probably suspect that their parents did this when they were younger and didn't get in trouble with drugs," Mr. Nadelmann said. "There's still hypocrisy, but the level of honesty and frankness in the parent-child dialogue about marijuana is increasing every year."
Michigan, Colorado and Washington are among 17 states where medical marijuana is legal. More than a dozen states, and many municipalities, have scrapped criminal penalties for small-scale pot possession or made it a low-priority crime for police.
In Colorado, hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries and growers operate legally, and ads invite new patients to try their pot.
Trish Nixon of Colorado Springs had two children living at home when Colorado legalized medical marijuana. She tackled the topic head-on, evolving from a "It's against the law — don't do it" warning to a more nuanced message.
"I would explain why somebody might need to use it, the right reasons some people need it and why some people are using it for the wrong reasons," Ms. Nixon said.
Her daughter, Krista, now 21, said she never considered marijuana a big deal. "My generation just grew up with it," she said, though adding that she's never used it.