This month, amid managing the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the flu season, Mainers face another public health challenge: the opening of adult-use recreational marijuana stores. Maine legalized adult-use marijuana in 2016, and on Friday, retail stores opened sales to people over the age of 21. It is imperative to treat this substance like any other age-restricted product (such as alcohol and tobacco) by safely storing it and modeling healthy behaviors to keep youth safe.

Attitudes and behaviors toward marijuana use are changing, and our young people are watching. Mirroring other states that have legalized marijuana, more and more youth in Maine report that marijuana use is not harmful and that there is little to no risk in using marijuana once or twice a week. Data from the 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey tell us that one-third of Maine high school students reported ever trying marijuana, and about a quarter used it in the past 30 days. Nearly 1 in 10 (9 percent) of Maine middle school students has ever tried marijuana. We know that brain development continues until the age of 25, and substance use, including marijuana use, can negatively affect learning, motivation and mood. Delaying the age at which someone starts using substances is essential, and decreases the likelihood that they will develop a substance use disorder later in life.

We want a bright future for our young Mainers, starting with a conversation early on about substance use. According to the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey data, four out of five youth feel their parents think it is wrong to use marijuana; therefore, parents and other caring adults can have productive discussions with their children about marijuana use. Setting clear expectations about use, providing concrete strategies, like refusal skills and establishing consequences, help youth make better decisions about marijuana use.

In addition to setting clear expectations about underage use, proper storage of marijuana products is another way to reduce the likelihood that a young person will use marijuana. Even before retail marijuana stores opened here in Maine, half of Maine high school students reported that marijuana is easy to obtain. As availability increases in communities, it will be even more vital to keep marijuana products away from youth in their homes. Storing marijuana products out of sight and in a locked cabinet can reduce the risk of accidental use and make it harder for young people to try marijuana at home. This can be especially important with marijuana edibles, as children may not be able to tell the difference between foods or candies made with marijuana versus those without.

Want to learn how to have conversations with young people about marijuana? YouArePrevention.org has communication guides to help navigate these conversations along with a list of organizations working on preventing underage substance use in local Maine communities. These organizations are there to help you if you have questions, and the Good to Know Maine website has additional resources regarding safe storage in the home. Together, we are prevention.

If community members work together to reduce youth access to marijuana and other substances, and discourage high-risk use of marijuana by those of legal age, we will contribute to a healthier, safer Maine. Let us keep talking and showing the way to a healthy future for all youth by protecting their developing brains and bodies from the effects of substance use.


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