David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Smoking Ethics Question

I spend quite a bit of time in the neighborhood of one of my running buddies, not so many miles from my house. Before we go for our run, we meet with our dogs in a vacant lot near his home to chat, stretch, and watch the dogs romp. Langley and I happened to get to the lot first last Saturday afternoon where I saw Max, a kid I know from the neighborhood, and two fourteen year-old girls whom I did not know. They were sitting with their backs to me as walked around the fence into the otherwise deserted lot.

From fifty feet away, I thought I saw Max smoking something. As I took a few steps closer, he turned around and saw me. I thought I saw him put a marijuana pipe into a backpack on his lap. I am not absolutely certain that I observed either Max smoking or putting a marijuana pipe into a backpack.

My question for my community of readers is: What is my duty, if any, to disclose to Max’s parents what I think I observed?

If you argue that I should not say anything to Max’s parents, would your answer change if I were more certain of what I had seen?

If you argue that I should communicate to Max’s parents, would your answer change if I were less certain of what I observed?

Is my relationship with Max’s parents relevant to your thinking about whether or not I should disclose? As it happens, I know them well enough from walking my dog through my friend’s neighborhood. Although, they don’t have a dog themselves, they seem to like dogs well enough and we’ve chatted over the years about the weather, sports, or politics. We could certainly not be described as close friends. I have never been inside their house. We have never shared a meal together.

If you feel that I should not communicate with Max’s parents, would you change your mind if we could somehow see into the future and know that Max, as a kid with a serious substance abuse issues some years from now, would get behind the wheel of a car and kill someone? If you feel that I should talk to Max’s parents, would you change your mind if you could look into the future and know that Max was smoking marijuana for the last time?

Would your answer change if Max were 25 years old rather than 14? Would your answer change is Max weren’t 14 years old, but 12?

Most importantly, if you feel that I should say something, how do you recommend that I go about it? “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Murgatroid, I’m not certain, but I think your son was smoking pot the other day in the vacant lot near your house” just doesn’t quite seem to cut it.

Although I have changed the details to preserve anonymity, the situation described above is all too real. All of us parent know who the pot smoking kids are at our children’s high schools and colleges. It’s not a secret. Go on their social media sites, for goodness sake; all the information is right there. That glassy eyed kid in the picture? The one holding the bong? He has been smoking marijuana. Count on it. Go ahead and mortgage the farm.

If you believe, as I do, that marijuana use in 14 year-olds is a bad plan, what is your duty to the children of your friends and neighbors? When, if ever, should you communicate what you know? How should you say what needs to be said?



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