Carrie Agnese won’t be smoking a joint in front of her kids anytime soon, but maybe someday.

Agnese, 38, was a teenager growing up in York when her mother smoked with her, so she could try marijuana in a safe place. A mother of three young children now, ages 2 to 8, Agnese appreciates how trusting and open her mother was with her.

She thinks smoking with her mother helped demystify the drug and had a moderating effect. She used it in high school, on weekends, but once in college found it hampered her studies. She stopped, and doesn’t use it today.

Trying marijuana with her mother “took the rebellion out of it, and it made me feel safe and secure,” said Agnese, who now lives in New York and has worked as a teacher.

“I’d certainly do the same thing for my kids,” she said. “If you’re just saying, ‘Don’t have sex. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke pot,’ they may still do it. They just won’t tell you.”

In Maine, marijuana became legally welcome in homes on Jan. 30. Though no one under 21 can use it, parents can lawfully smoke at the dinner table or on the couch. And they can even share a joint with their adult kids. Yet marijuana seems unlikely to become a visible part of Maine family life anytime soon, say parents, medical professionals and activists.

While beer and wine are welcome at family dinner tables and sporting events across America, marijuana has been illegal for more than 75 years and widely vilified. It has a long history of being linked in popular culture to criminals, stoners and the seedier side of society. And there is ongoing debate and a lack of research regarding how dangerous and addictive it is.

“I am not going to sit next to my (7-year-old) son on the couch and roll a joint. I might slip into the basement after a long day, though,” said Heather Sullivan, 45, of Hollis, who was a volunteer for the legalization campaign and later a paid campaign staff member.

“Right now, I think all parents should be cautious about this. There’s still too much stigma attached to it. But I think it will get to the dinner table eventually.”

While alcohol is known to be dangerous and addictive, it’s been part of social gatherings and celebrations for much of the country’s history. Since the failed experiment of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, alcohol has become a fixture at many family dinner tables and celebrations.

But marijuana, which comes from the plant cannabis, has a cloudier history. It was a medical ingredient and sold in some pharmacies in the early to mid-1800s. Recreational use of marijuana didn’t become widely known about until the early 1900s. Its use in America was tied by some critics to the massive Mexican immigration that took place after the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

In the 1930s, there was a very public campaign against the so-called “evil weed,” including a film called “Reefer Madness.” Recreational use of marijuana became a federal crime in 1937.

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Unlike the end of Prohibition, which made alcohol legal nationally, marijuana’s legalization and acceptance has been a slow, state-by-state process. So far, eight states have made it legal for recreational use.

Under Maine’s new law, people age 21 and over can possess 2.5 ounces of dried marijuana, consume edibles and have up to six plants. The law prohibits the consumption of marijuana while in a vehicle in operation and delays the start of retail sales until at least February 2018. People can only consume edibles that they produce or are given for free, and they aren’t allowed to buy edibles in other states and bring them into Maine.

“Beer and wine have been integrated into American life for so long. It’s seen as a part of restaurant culture, public recreation and sociability of all kinds,” said Lisa Jacobson, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who is writing a book to be titled “Fashioning New Cultures of Drink: Alcohol’s Quest for Legitimacy after Prohibition.” “Marijuana doesn’t have that kind of history.”

Changes in attitudes toward marijuana in the home have already begun and can be seen in the children of some baby boomers. Many of them grew up with parents who used marijuana from time to time and weren’t discouraged from trying it themselves. With marijuana becoming legal in more and more places, there may be a new generation of parents who will pass along a similar attitude to their children. Just as Agnese will likely pass down to her children ideas about marijuana and moderation she got with the help of her mother, Victoria Simon.

Simon, 67, of York, says she used marijuana in college, as something “enjoyable you did with friends,” and she wanted her two children to know about it before they went to college. She preferred they did that with her, at home.

“One of the roles of a parent is to teach moderation in all things,” she said. “You have to guide your kids.”

Victoria Simon, 67, of York, encouraged her daughter Carrie to try marijuana as a teenager and smoked with her. “One of the roles of a parent is to teach moderation in all things,” said Simon. Now married with a family of her own, Carrie Agnese, 38, says she too might smoke in front of her kids – someday. Staff photo by Gregory Rec


The statewide ballot question legalizing marijuana passed last fall by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote, which means many Mainers don’t condone recreational use.

Even those who aren’t happy with the law say it’s important to start talking to children about it, the way parents talk to children about alcohol and cigarettes. Most parents would agree it’s good to give your kids the facts, but the facts about marijuana’s health risks are hotly debated and not always conclusive.

Marijuana activists cite medical evidence that alcohol is more dangerous. A report released in early January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine looked at some 10,000 studies and research documents published since 1999 on marijuana’s health effects and found no cases of death by marijuana overdose. The report, written by doctors from around the country, said that in light of the growing trend toward legalization, much more study of marijuana’s health effects is needed.

By contrast, a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an average of six people die every day of alcohol poisoning, most related to episodes of binge-drinking.

Carey Clark of Arrowsic, an associate professor of nursing at the Universtiy of Maine at Augusta and president-elect of the American Cannabis Nurses Association, points to the plant’s legal use as a medication, to relieve pain in many cases, as a major difference between it and alcohol. Plus, alcohol is a leading cause of preventable death.

“I do think parents need to educate their kids, tell them this is just for adults. Don’t smoke in front of them (because of secondhand smoke),” said Clark, 49, who has two daughters, ages 9 and 11. “(Marijuana) is just not as accepted yet as alcohol. I think it’s interesting that parents come home and have a cocktail in front of their children and don’t think for a second about it. Cannabis may eventually be viewed in the same way.”

Just as people can imbibe different potencies of alcohol, from the 5 percent alcohol by volume of a beer to the 50 percent of some whiskeys, there are ways to use cannabis to lesser intoxicating effect, Clark said. Clark declined to say whether she will use marijuana recreationally at home.

“It’s interesting that parents come home and have a cocktail in front of their children and don’t think for a second about it,” says Carey Clark of Arrowsic, a 49-year-old mother of two daughters and the president-elect of the American Cannabis Nurses Association. She added: “Cannabis may eventually be viewed in the same way.” Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouelette


There are scientific data, especially in the last decade or so, that show both marijuana and alcohol pose more potential harm to the brains of teens and young adults than previously thought, said Sion Kim Harris, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research.

The first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, published in November 2016, reviewed recent scientific studies and found that “all addictive drugs, including alcohol and marijuana, have especially harmful effects on the adolescent brain, which is still undergoing significant development.”

Twenty or 30 years ago, Harris said, many doctors thought brains stopped developing around age 12. But today doctors believe that the brain is still developing until about age 25.

The last part of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is used in judgment and decision-making. A 2014 report authored by researchers at the University of California at San Diego Department of Psychiatry found that cannabis users between ages 16 and 19 had a prefrontal cortex that was less developed than non-cannabis users of the same age. The report found that teens who were heavy marijuana users “often show disadvantages” in brain development.

And the report released in January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found evidence that starting to use marijuana before adulthood increases a person’s likelihood of developing “problem cannabis use.”

“What I tell parents about marijuana, just as with alcohol, is that we now understand the teen brain is far more vulnerable to change by these substances than we thought, and we are learning more all the time,” said Harris.

Joanne Grant of Gray, a substance abuse counselor who worked on the campaign opposing the recreational use of pot, knows her daughters Mady West, 14, and Emma West, 12, will be hearing more about the drug now that it’s legal in Maine. “I want them to have the facts,” she said. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Joanne Grant, a mother of two from Gray, runs Day One substance abuse programs for teenage boys in Hollis and Hinckley. She says a large majority of teens in the program are there because of struggles with marijuana. Because of the problems she’s seen it cause in young people’s lives, she is opposed to its being legal.

But she realizes that her two daughters now will be hearing a lot more about it. They are 12 and 14.

“I want them to have the facts. We’ve talked about some of the questions, like ‘Why did so-and-so’s mom vote yes?’ and ‘Why is it OK for some people?’ I tell them that it’s medication for some people,” said Grant, 42. “I want to work on refusal skills with them, because they’ll need them to navigate society. But I don’t want them to judge others.”


In Colorado, where marijuana has been legal to buy and use since 2014, attitudes about using it in the home have changed, slowly, says Kris Morwood, who works in the cannabis industry there and has co-authored a children’s book explaining cannabis.

“I know some people who have it at dinner, like a glass of wine, in front of their kids,” said Morwood, 53. “But people with small kids especially are very careful. There is still that stigma, and if a child goes to school and says his parents were smoking (marijuana), social services might come out.”

Morwood co-authored the book “Callie Cannabis” as a way for parents, and people in the cannabis industry, to talk about it with children. It’s an illustrated book about a cannabis plant named Callie, who tells about herself, her uses and her history.

“I can be helpful for the treatment of pain and sickness,” Callie says in the book. “Adults who are 21 or older consume me to relax instead of alcohol or pills. Some people don’t consume me at all. In fact, some people do not like me.”

“We’re trying to normalize conversation around this; that’s why we wrote the book,” Morwood said. “It’s been illegal for so long, but the situation is going to be very different in 20 years, when it’s been legal for a while.”

Alcohol’s road to acceptance in American homes, especially after Prohibition, had a lot to do with good marketing, said Jacobson, the professor writing about alcohol’s history. Alcohol had been in American homes in the 1800s, especially in the homes of immigrant families used to drinking wine in their countries of origin. But before Prohibition, alcohol was strongly associated with saloons and places men hung out. So the alcohol makers sought to make their product appear more respectable and to market it to women, since women were largely the ones who decided what came into the home.

In the 1940s and ’50s, magazine ads showed women drinking beer. There were images of women in gowns sipping beer from a pilsner glass, with slogans like, “If you like beer, you’ll love Schlitz.” Another ad, for Budweiser, showed a young woman near a record player at a party as a beer is poured for her. The text read: “Where there’s life, there’s Bud.” Winemakers started marketing their products to go with food. During World War II, wine was advertised as a way to make cheap, tough cuts of meat more tasty and glamorous.

“The brewers and the vintners knew to be successful they had to get into homes, to make their products seem genteel, social,” said Jacobson. “I think marijuana’s path to legitimacy is going to be much harder.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

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