A Tool Kit for Parents: Cannabis Legalization and Marijuana’s Impact on Our Youth

Feb 7, 2023

A Tool Kit for Parents: Cannabis Legalization and Marijuana’s Impact on Our Youth

Cannabis is now legal for adult use in Connecticut and retail sales officially began in January. How do we support our children and parents through this change and what it means moving forward?

Learning more about today’s marijuana, its impact on our youth, and the new law is a great way to start.

Over the next few months, the Lyme-Old Lyme Prevention Coalition and Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau (LYSB) will be running a youth cannabis education and prevention campaign, including a six-part direct mail Tool Kit for Parents that will be in mailboxes all over Lyme and Old Lyme.

This postcard will be arriving soon in Lyme and Old Lyme mailboxes. It is the first of a six-part direct mail Tool Kit for Parents regarding cannabis legalization in Connecticut and how to deal with its impact on our youth.
Why is Youth Cannabis Use a Problem?

The 2021 Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Youth Survey assessing current youth substance use/misuse trends in students grades 7-12 offers insight.

By 12th grade, nearly a quarter of all seniors reported trying marijuana in their lifetime, with 13.3% reporting recent use. Of equal concern is society’s view of marijuana use and reduced perception of its harm by youth. By 12th grade, only 20 percent of LOLHS students report great risk for using marijuana one to two times a week, while 68 percent of surveyed parents reporting that weekly marijuana use is risky for youth.

Teens (and often parents) believe the myth that today’s marijuana is neither dangerous nor addictive. What some do not fully understand is that today’s marijuana is incredibly potent, containing at least three times more THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol – the primary psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from the cannabis (marijuana) plant) than the weed of most adults’ youth, and rising to 99 percent THC content. This rise in potency means a comparable rise in risk.

Just because adult cannabis-use is legal and it is on retail shelves in Connecticut, it does not mean that this retail marijuana is “better” for youth if they experiment with it or use on a regular basis.

Alli Behnke, LYSB Prevention Coordinator, explains, “Sometimes people share with me that they feel legalizing marijuana was the safest thing for kids. If they experiment now at least it will be “safe.” This argument might make sense on the outside, but if you really look at the facts, you will find that youth use increased dramatically in other states post-legalization, and cannabis sold in dispensaries is still incredibly high in THC.”

She adds, “Our kids are at risk for some very serious consequences. It is important to know the facts and be prepared to talk to your children about cannabis,” emphasizing, “The legal age is 21 for a reason.”

It is important for parents, caregivers, and other adults who interact with youth to understand that adolescents are at the most risk for developing Cannabis Use Disorder. Many people believe that marijuana is not addictive, but that is a complete misconception.

In fact, around 10% of all cannabis users will develop a Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) and 1 in 6 teens, who try marijuana, will become addicted – around 11% of teen users becoming addicted within the first year of use.

The effects of teen marijuana use can result in lower grades, poorer mood, low attention span, lack of motivation, and more. Some teens may experience rapid heartbeat, feelings of paranoia, and hallucinations. Weekly use of marijuana doubles a teen’s risk of having depression and/or anxiety. Teens who are daily marijuana users are seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

For more information about teen marijuana use and its effects, visit www.lysb.org/prevention

Cannabis Law in Connecticut

Understanding Connecticut’s new Cannabis Laws is a key first step. A 2016 study in the legal state of Washington found that 1/3 of parents incorrectly believed that the minimum legal age for cannabis was 18 rather than 21. In Connecticut, it is legal for adults (21+) to possess 1.5 ounces of cannabis at home or transporting it to home. Adults may also have up to 5 ounces stored in a locked container.

Cannabis can’t be used just anywhere – it is strictly prohibited at Connecticut State Parks, State Beaches, or on State Waters.

In every case, possessing and using cannabis under the age of 21 is illegal.

Much like Connecticut’s Social Host Law, permitting any person under the age of 21 to possess cannabis is a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by law. The Lyme-Old Lyme 2021 Youth Survey reports that 76.6% of youth, who use marijuana, do so in the homes of other people and 69% in their own homes. In fact, 50% of LOL 12th graders, who use marijuana, report that they use at a party with an adult present. This is illegal and harmful to all youth involved.

In October 2021, the Old Lyme Zoning Commission voted unanimously to prohibit all marijuana establishments “to prevent negative unintended consequences of its sale, production, or distribution.”

Keep in mind that surrounding communities (e.g., East Lyme, New London and Westbrook) have not banned sales and retail establishments will start selling shortly. Waterford and Clinton rejected retail marijuana sales.

Increased access, decreased perception of harm, and normalization of marijuana use will impact our youth in the coming years.

What Can Parents Do?

Adult-use marijuana may now be legal in Connecticut, but parents and other adults are strongly encouraged to avoid using cannabis in front of any youth. Lyme-Old Lyme youth report that they watch, listen, and learn about substance use and beliefs from their parents and adults around them. This includes cannabis use role modeling, positive coping skills, and ways to relax and have fun that don’t involve substance use, which can only pay off as youth develop their own behaviors and skills.

If cannabis is in your home, lock it up in accordance with CT State Law and away from children or adolescents. Children can and are being hospitalized for accidental exposure and overdose from adult cannabis.

It is highly recommended to keep track of what you possess so you can confirm that no one else is using it. Lock boxes can be purchased from many retailers with a limited amount available for free at LYSB for the LOL Community.

Remember that the most important tool in prevention, including the prevention of an adolescent Cannabis Use Disorder, is setting clear rules and talking often and early to your children. Learn the facts, create family rules, and work together to develop a strategy that will support your child’s health, well-being, and future.

Although talking about cannabis to your teens can be awkward at first, it is critical to communicate your expectations and reinforce that its use is illegal for those under 21. By helping kids choose to not use marijuana, we can together prevent countless cases of substance use disorders.