WINDHAM — A coalition for drug-free youth encouraged Windham’s marijuana task force to educate parents in the community about the harmful effects marijuana can have on children, saying “we want our youth to be safe.”

The Retail Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana Establishments Task Force is reviewing state laws and Windham’s zoning map regarding marijuana establishments. It will then make recommendations to the council, which created it in light of recent changes in marijuana laws.

At the task force’s meeting on Monday, the Be the Influence coalition gave a presentation about how the two groups can collaborate.

“We just want to educate you on what we’re seeing,” said Laura Morris, project director for Be the Influence.

“We as a group recognize that (marijuana) is a problem in our schools. The only way for us to make a difference for our community and for our teens is if both sides of the table come together,” said Maggie Terry, chairwoman of the task force.

Morris began by discussing how more students have begun using marijuana at Windham High School since 2015 and how students have a low perception of the risk it may pose to them.

She explained how marijuana can affect brain development, said that marijuana has become much more potent over the years and cited studies saying that use can lead to an exacerbation of anxiety, even though many believe marijuana can treat anxiety.

Some members of the task force wanted more data and information.

“Are we finding that the results are better through treating anxiety through pharmaceuticals and the long-range effects of that as opposed to marijuana that tends to be safer? I’m not trying to have a debate. I’m just trying to really grasp all of this,” said Will Hawkins, task force vice chairman.

Morris replied, “We understand there are side effects to pharmaceuticals. This is not a picking on cannabis type thing. This is, do we know there are long-term effects of whatever this child is taking now on the developing brain?”

She wondered if the task force members, six of whom own a marijuana-related business or are a licensed medical caregiver, could prevent children from being prescribed marijuana for anxiety or other ailments.

“That’s on the practitioner and not a cannabis business owner. There’s nothing we can do about that. We’re not qualified to give that recommendation,” said Hawkins, owner of a medical marijuana caregiver store in Windham.

The group also discussed how marijuana has become more normalized to the point where children are knowledgeable about it and are able to access it at home.

Matthew Cyr, a community services officer, urged the task force to focus on educating parents in town.

“We really need help in educating the adults: this stuff is not the same for your body as it is for a child. It’s going to affect them more severely. It needs to be monitored,” he said.

Another issue, Hawkins said, is fake IDs: “We’ve had 13 fake IDs come into our store since we’ve opened, so kids are trying.”

Police Chief Kevin Schofield brought up trainings that his department conducts in establishments that serve alchohol to teach those employees how to recognize fake IDs. The task force requested a similar training for themselves, and Cyr said he would organize a class for the group.

In addition, task force members agreed to include information in their exit packaging.

Morris supplied pamphlets with information, including the importance of locking up one’s marijuana.

“We want our community to be safe, we want our youth to be safe. Let’s just work together to keep our youth making healthy choices,” she said.

Hawkins agreed with the idea of including information with purchases, but wondered what tangible goals the task force could tackle as a group to ensure long-term success.

“As task force members, what can we do as a recommendation to the town to make this a standard practice for all businesses that exist rather than a social responsibility compromise?” he asked.

“I think you’ve verbalized it right there,” Morris said.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]

Laura Morris, project director at Be the Influence, presents to the marijuana task force about ways the two groups can collaborate.

Will Hawkins, task force vice chairman, asks a question at Monday’s meeting.