Health chief concerned about youth as legal pot era dawns

Image: Thinkstock

BOSTON, DEC. 14, 2016….After adult marijuana use becomes legal in Massachusetts Thursday, state health officials plan to keep up efforts to educate youth about the drug and prevent young people from using it.

“We continue with our efforts and our emphasis and making sure that youth understand what the risks of marijuana are,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel told the News Service Wednesday after a Public Health Council meeting. “I’m particularly concerned about, I keep mentioning, youth. That’s because we know that there’s scientific evidence that for the developing brain, it can be particularly detrimental and also lead to other substance use. As we fight this current opioid epidemic, we want to make sure that youth understand those risks.”

Voters on Nov. 8 approved a ballot question legalizing the possession and use of marijuana by people 21 and over, establishing a process through which retail pot sales could begin in 2018 and calling for the establishment of a regulatory structure to oversee the new industry.

Key provisions of the law take effect Thursday, when use, possession and home-growing will become legal with some limitations.

People 21 and over will be able to carry up to one ounce of marijuana in public and grow up to six plants in their home, with a maximum of 12 per household.

The law will also prevent the consumption or smoking of marijuana in a public place where smoking tobacco is prohibited. Smoking has been banned in Massachusetts workplaces and restaurants since 2004, and some municipalities, including Boston, prohibit smoking in their public parks.

While the new marijuana law did not emerge for discussion, progress made by anti-smoking initiatives was highlighted during the Public Health Council meeting. Office of Community Health and Tobacco Use Prevention director Patricia Henley presented statistics that showed the rate of cigarette use among high school students had fallen from 35.7 percent in 1995 to 7.7 percent in 2015.

Massachusetts runs a Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program that includes youth programs, a hotline for smokers seeking help quitting and support for housing facilities that want to adopt smoke-free policies. Tobacco use opponents in recent years have urged the state to bolster its anti-tobacco campaigns.

Asked if the department would extend its anti-smoking efforts to include marijuana, Bharel pointed instead to other prevention work she said would continue.

“The use of marijuana, specifically the use of marijuana by youth and the potential detrimental effects have always been part of our education and prevention work that we do at the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, so our emphasis continues to make sure that youth understand the potential harms of marijuana use on the developing brain and the significant role that we play in enhancing or ensuring this education continues,” Bharel said.

The substance abuse services bureau “funds community-based prevention programs that utilize science-based programs/strategies to prevent alcohol, marijuana, and other drug abuse with a particular focus on the under 21 population,” according to the DPH.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has also voiced concerns about the ways marijuana affects brain development, saying on Tuesday that he would raise with fellow lawmakers the idea of changing the legal use age for the drug to 25, though he expected such a tweak was “not going to be a popular proposal.”

Rosenberg was among the few lawmakers who expressed support for the ballot law before the Nov. 8 vote.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s