As the details and development of legal cannabis are beginning to provide data for municipalities, social service organizations are still raising concerns about the potential negative impacts that the new law could have on the youth of Connecticut. Town zoning official are now in the process of extending the moratorium on retail sales until the end of the year to better ascertain how, or even if, Guilford will adapt to the new law.
According to state statistics, drug and alcohol use among Connecticut teens has decreased significantly in the last decade or so. The reporting of teen use of marijuana has dropped by up to 50 percent, according to several gathering agencies including the CDC, but organizations like DAY are seeing firsthand how that may be changing for youth.
Bo Huhn, board member for DAY (Developing Assets for Youth), partners with Guilford Youth & Family Services on programming and intervention projects. Huhn said the organization is extremely concerned with the unknowns associated with cannabis legalization.
“Frankly, it’s not the doing away with criminal penalties that we saw as the problem, it was the commercialization that is the problem,” said Huhn. “Having people being able to make a buck, selling it, advertising it, pushing it, is not something that is healthy for people. Putting that profit motive in there increases the use.
“Everywhere this has been commercialized, you get increased use. It happens everywhere,” he continued. “And the problem is that the downside is being ignored and covered up, because it’s being sold as a healthy product and it’s a medicine, and recreational. That whole thing has a lot of parents and children [thinking] that it’s not that big a deal for kids.”
There is data that supports that conclusion; states that legalize cannabis do see a rise in usage. However, the data also indicates a wide range of opinions and results.
In Washington State, which has more data available because it was one of the first states to legalize cannabis, the conclusions of several studies were contradictory. One study found an increased use among 8th- to 10th graders after legalization, but a decrease in use by 12th graders. Another study found almost the opposite, decreased use by 8th- to 10th graders and an increase in use by young adults.
What doesn’t seem to be arguable is that cannabis can compound preexisting mental health issues, and that cannabis does have an affect on the developing brains of young adults, but again, conflicting data makes it unclear how intense and for how long this effect occurs. The Journal of the AMA, the National Library of Medicine, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and are just a few of the dozens of organizations that have conducted and/or published the results of studies, which reach vastly different conclusions on the issue.
For Huhn and DAY, the concern is, among other things, neurological damage in young adults found to occur with cannabis use. Huhn said efforts to educate residents about the potential negative effects and danger has not been easy.
“Dr. [Deepak] D’Souza has been very active here in Guilford and up in Hartford, trying to raise the consciousness about the risk for teens and it just fails, it just doesn’t get through,” Huhn said. “So, it’s not a frustration, it’s a concern that we are going to have more kids hurt by this, and hurt in a way that can have an effect on their whole lives, and it’s just being ignored.”
At recent public meeting in March, panelist, D’Souza, who is also a Guilford resident and a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, cited several recent studies of the dangers of cannabis use by teens. Though the conflicting data concerning both short- and long-term effects of cannabis use makes it difficult to tease out direct conclusions, it is well-documented that cannabis use by teens does appear to have a negative effect the cognitive development and processes of youth.
One of the aspects that Huhn stresses is parental education to counter the belief that cannabis in benign and doesn’t have hazards associated with use. According to Huhn, he endured an addiction crisis within his own family and speaks with honesty about his family’s journey. Huhn said parents simply need to get informed about some of the hazards associated with teen marijuana use and what options are available for parents.
One aspect that causes some confusion is the potency of some of the current forms of THC, and what that increase actually means.
While it is true that marijuana is far more potent today than in the 1960s and 1970s, it has been intensively cultivated and propagated for several decades to maximize potency, and has been sold both illegally and legally for many years with a high level of THC.
Some experts have suggested that usage education may be the best tactic to counter negative reactions to THC that have been reported among youth and some newer or first-time users of THC.
Ingesting via vaping, traditional smoking, or edibles may induce a vastly different experience or level of high, no matter the experience of the user, and Huhn said there is a responsibility for town officials to inform the community of this fact.
“The higher potency is a real concern. We simply do not know what this percentage will do to our youth. Parents and families should be aware of this fact,” Huhn said.
First Selectman Matt Hoey said the town is considering an extension of the retail moratorium, set to expire in July, until the end of the calendar year in December, and expects that to be enacted. Hoey added that a community poll to gauge attitudes and opinions on legal cannabis retail and growing has been initiated and residents are now able to provide their input on this matter.
“We have made a commitment to engage the community on dialog with that. We are considering moving the moratorium out from its expiration until the end of the calendar year,” said Hoey. “We have the commissioned polling agency that we hope will kick off shortly. And we will probably revise the ordinance that we passed on the original moratorium, and move that out to the end of the year. We actually have a number of other significant things going on right now, including the affordable housing plan…We also have the zoning code rewrite, which will involve community engagement, so the town planner and the town counsel and myself, have been discussing the best way to lay these things out, and we feel there’s no reason right now to rush the cannabis issue in at this point.”