Reactions mixed on children's marijuana book

Reactions mixed on children's marijuana book »Play Video
PORTLAND, Ore. - A new children's book is stirring up controversy for the way it portrays what many people believe to be an adult topic: marijuana use.

The book, authored by Ricardo Cortes, who is no stranger to hot topics, is called "It's Just A Plant," and portrays marijuana use as a relatively benign adult activity.

The book is written in simple terms children can understand and is filled colorful images depicting pot use, history, cultivation, activism and law enforcement.

The story begins with the central character, a young girl named Jackie, waking up at night and walking into her parents room where they are smoking a joint while sitting together on their bed.

From there, Jackie, accompanied by her mother, talks to a variety of people about the drug, including a group of men who are smoking it and then get busted by the police.

She also meets a farmer/grower and learns about "normal" people who have used marijuana - including former president Bill Clinton, who famously said he didn't inhale.

Parents who had gathered outside a southeast Portland school took a look at the book and had reactions ranging from shock to reasoned reflection. "More information than a young child needs," one woman told KATU News after paging through the book.

Another woman who said she attended graduate school in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where drug use - especially marijuana use - is informally condoned, said she felt other countries had a more sophisticated approach to drug use than the U.S. and had no objections to the book.

Participants in a recent Portland cannabis legalization march were predictably very supportive of the book. One mother marching with her child even had a copy of the book with her.

"It helps the kids understand that marijuana helps people," another marcher said. Many children took part in the march.

The books author, Ricardo Cortes, told KATU News that after working on drug policy and in public schools, he believes there needs to be a new way to educate young people about marijuana.

"This book is not about teaching kids how to use marijuana, it is about educating them about the plant," Cortes said in an interview with KATU News.

Drug preventionist Eric Martin agrees that improvements in drug education are needed, but he disagrees that a children's book about pot is the way to start.

He said that some of the most effective drug prevention programs don't even focus on drugs and their effects. Instead, the focus is on other activities such as reading.

"We have research that suggest there are other strategies that are more effective than simply scare tactics and telling kids that drugs are bad," Martin said, "but I don't know if this [book] is one of those models."

Cortes said he self-published the book since no publisher would touch it due to the controversy. It is only available online.

He said his next book, about discrimination against people of Middle Eastern descent, is going to be called "I Don't Want To Blow You Up."