A recent Press Herald report carried with it a simple chart depicting the rate of consumption of alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and vape cartridges by Maine high schoolers between 2005 and 2021. The stats bear out what we’ve come to understand about the group known as Gen Z (born in 1997 and thereafter).

According to a 2019 study, Maine had the third-highest rate of youth marijuana use in the U.S. Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/TNS

We know that alcohol, for example, has fallen way out of favor. In 2005, 43% reported drinking alcohol at some point in the prior 30 days. Last year, with some possible further pandemic-related curtailment, the number was down to 19%. Cigarettes, once reportedly smoked by 16% of high schoolers with the same regularity, were reached for in 2021 by just 5.5% of those surveyed.

These are both very positive developments. But the latest report card also features troubling new downsides. There’s the increased popularity of vaping, its own, insidious matter and broadly a subject for another editorial.

A development of greater significance and more urgent importance is this: Our reporting refers to a “growing belief” among young people that marijuana use is safe at their age.

This is an unfounded and dangerous belief.

Crystallizing for some time for this generation, the belief that marijuana is relatively risk-free hasn’t fallen from the sky. It’s been bolstered by the national embrace of recreational cannabis; a legalization wave that started on either coast and has been rolling steadily across the country.


By now, Maine knows the effects of this regulatory change intimately. We recently editorialized on the explosion in the number of recreational dispensaries statewide. The burgeoning number of retailers is borne out by the balance sheet: Maine’s adult-use cannabis sales nearly doubled last year, to $160 million.

“The system is creating jobs, helping revitalize communities and having a positive economic impact on businesses that help the industry function,” said John Hudak, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, as he welcomed the news.

The feel-good atmosphere surrounding recreational or “adult-use” cannabis has been spurred on by new commercial opportunities, juiced state tax takes, tenderly designed storefronts on every street, the perception of relative safety from addiction, the promotion of CBD – the non-psychoactive part of the plant – as a remedy for whatever ails you (or your pet) and tens of billions of dollars worth of friendly, persuasive marketing. The blue raspberry-flavored vape pen can only dream of enjoying the same visibility as your average weed gummy.

Lost in the buzz is the fact that we don’t know what exactly cannabis does to the still-developing brain.

And that we do know more than enough to insist on caution.

Hudak’s office directs the public to an educational program created by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Good to Know. The program’s website is elegant enough to go toe-to-toe with that of the most handsomely funded Los Angeles dispensary, but the youth prevention message, while absolutely clear, is too gently delivered in such a loud environment.

The program warns of the risks we know about: of dependency, learning and memory loss, reduced athletic performance and overall harm to brain development. It also runs through negative day-to-day consequences of use: legal issues, loss of financial aid and being fired.

The message is clear. It’s also clear that it needs to be amplified, repeated and acted on. According to a 2019 study, Maine had the third-highest rate of youth marijuana use in the U.S.

So our attitudes are more cavalier, but nothing else has changed – if anything, the products on the market are far more potent than in decades prior. Which means our attitudes need to firm back up.

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