History of the Parent Movement 1.0

PM1.0 graph.png

Most parents of teens today don’t realize there was a massive parent movement (1979-1992) that influenced Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” campaign of their youth. Prior to the slogan in the early 1980s, those parents were taking very practical steps to change the local environments in which their kids grew up – reducing access and visibility of pot and drug paraphernalia and offering other parents at the time a way to think about teen drug and alcohol use and team up against it.

In 1976 in Atlanta, Keith Schuchard and her husband gave a backyard birthday party for their oldest daughter turning 13. At the party, the children were found to be using marijuana, PCP, and high-test alcohol. Shocked, the Schuchards called the parents of the party invitees to a parent meeting in their home the next day, creating the nation’s first Parent Peer Group. Ms. Schuchard founded the Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) at Georgia State University.

Parent Peer Groups addressed the transitions children make from neighborhood elementary schools, where most families know each other, to middle schools and later high schools, where neighborhood support can be gone altogether. Parents reached out to the parents of their children’s new best friends at each transition. Together, they explored common values and established family expectations they could all agree on to protect the four or five children in the new friendship group. These parents supported each other as they jointly steered their children through the pitfalls and temptations of adolescence and endeavored to raise healthy kids who avoid the use of any addictive drugs,  Also, even though options for addiction treatment were much fewer in the 1980s, parents with a child actively addicted to marijuana or other drugs could find families who understood this and could offer support not scorn.

In 1977, in Atlanta, in the same community where the birthday party took place the year before, Sue Rusche noticed several shops introducing lines of drug paraphernalia, which served as the marketing arm of the drug culture, targeting adolescents and young adults. She reached out to other parents and community leaders to form National Families in Action (NFIA), the nation’s first Parent Community Group, which led the effort across the US to seek laws banning the sale of drug paraphernalia and opposing marijuana legalization. Interestingly, the first drug legalization organization, NORML, filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws banning paraphernalia but ultimately lost that battle when the US Supreme Court upheld parents’ right to raise children in healthy, non-exploitative environments.

At the same time on the west coast, Carla Lowe was struck by survey results published by the PTA of the high school her children attended. The survey said the number-one parent concern was “the increasing use of marijuana among their high school students.” She was also seeing “head shops” in her neighborhood. Carla sponsored a ballot initiative to rid California of drug paraphernalia and later founded Californians Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM, now Americans Against Legalizing Marijuana or AALM).

Parents from both coasts and other parts of the US met each other in Atlanta in 1980 at the annual Pride Conference, where they founded the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP) to represent parental interests in Washington DC. NFP became the national voice of a movement that was working.

The first two directors of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) credit this Parent Movement (1.0) with reducing past-month illicit drug use among American adolescents and young adults by nearly two-thirds between 1979 and 1992. The graph above shows this reduction among high school seniors whose daily marijuana use fell from one in 11 to one in 50 (Monitoring the Future).

So what happened next in the mid-1990s…

The parent groups started to dissolve for a variety of reasons.  Things like… although a completely non or bi-partisan issue - marijuana affects the brain health of both liberal and conservative teens equally - the parent groups became aware that they were largely tied to the GOP.  As US politics started to wane back to the left in the early 1990s, support and understanding of the issues around marijuana drifted.  Also, one "ages out" of being a parent of teens.  After high school graduation, parent focus tends to shift to many other things.  Some succession planning efforts were attempted in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  They were even quite successful, but a lack of funding made it difficult to keep them in place for long.

At the same time and unfortunately, in the mid-1990s, a handful of billionaires began pouring money into NORML and other drug legalization organizations. All involved began to believe that positioning marijuana as “medicine” might be the path towards full recreational legalization. They strategically chose states with ballot initiatives, wrote laws legalizing marijuana for medical use, bought signatures to place these initiatives on the ballot, and misled voters about the true intent of these laws. The first state law allowing medical marijuana was passed by California voters in 1996. Illicit drug use, especially marijuana use, began to rise again.

California’s medical marijuana law launched a commercial marijuana industry that continued to pour more money into lobbying other state legislators and state elections - quite successfully. As of early 2019, 31 states have laws allowing marijuana for medical use. Then in 2010, this cadre of pro-pot organizations and the billionaires that back them attempted to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California. They would not be successful in California until 2016, but they did convince Colorado and Washington State voters to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, then Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC in 2014, California, Maine, Nevada, and Massachusetts in 2016, and Michigan and Vermont in 2018. These ten states have the highest rates of marijuana use in the nation – and in history. In some, nearly 40 percent of 18 to 25 year-olds have used the drug in the past month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.