Driving in Maine, it’s hard to miss the boom in cannabis shops and dispensaries. You’re bound to see at least one, if not several, on your morning commute or on the way home from school pickup. As the state’s nascent cannabis industry grows, so does its influence in Augusta. This legislative session, policymakers passed industry-sponsored bills that weaken guardrails around cannabis sales and marketing and increase the likelihood of high-risk adult use and of youth exposure and access to cannabis.

One of those bills, L.D. 40, makes far-reaching changes to Maine’s medical and adult use cannabis programs, and was a last-minute bill pushed through the Legislature in a process that was not transparent or conducive to stakeholder input. Despite the rosy picture painted in a recent Press Herald article, the final bill was not something that “all sides” agreed on. While many of the provisions were technical and benign, squirreled away in the 86-page legislation were changes that threaten public health and safety.

Data show that 20% of Maine high schoolers currently use cannabis, and that cannabis advertising influences youth interest in and subsequent use of the drug. Despite that, L.D. 40 removes age-restricted entry to retail stores and simultaneously weakens standards that restrict marketing aimed at kids. Now, when a child walks into a cannabis shop, they may see cannabis paraphernalia that features popular cartoon characters and mimics candy.

Decades ago, policymakers restricted the tobacco industry’s use of free giveaways and discounted products because such tactics hook new users and perpetuate addiction. Yet with this new law, people can get two free cannabis giveaways per person, per day, including vape cartridges and serving-sized edibles. And thanks to another newly enacted industry bill, those free gummies will no longer be embossed with a symbol that clearly shows they contain THC, the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. L.D. 40 also doesn’t bar vendors from giving away free cannabis products at fairs and festivals, which risks unintended cannabis use and over-consumption by children, adults, even pets.

We’re already seeing an increase in unintentional cannabis poisonings. In 2020 in Maine, there were 5,632 cannabis-related emergency department visits – a 21% increase from 2019, with the greatest number seen among 18-25 year olds. The Northern New England Poison Control Center reports that the number of cannabis poisonings they’ve managed among kids ages 12 years or younger more than doubled between 2020 and 2023, and more than half of those cases were kids under five years old. We should be strengthening regulations to limit youth exposure and access to cannabis, not weakening them.

There is no safe level of cannabis use for adolescents. Regular cannabis use alters youth brain development, impairing learning and increasing the risk of anxiety, suicidal ideation, and severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to testimony from Dr. Deb Hagler from the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, young people who regularly use cannabis are 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than peers who don’t regularly use cannabis.

These policy changes let cannabis businesses off the hook for what should be basic responsible business practices and shifts that burden to consumers and parents.

If you use cannabis and there are children in your household, there are simple steps you can take to limit their access and exposure. First, practice safe storage – keep cannabis products in their original packaging with clear labels, separate cannabis products from other food or medicines and store cannabis in a locked container or cabinet out of the reach of kids (and pets). You can limit your kids’ exposure to marketing by opting for curbside pickup or delivery rather than bringing them into the store.

But there’s only so much individuals and parents can do. We can have a thriving and responsible cannabis industry in Maine, but only if our policymakers establish reasonable guardrails. Right now, lawmakers are letting the fox guard the henhouse, and that has to change.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.