Recreational Marijuana Overview

The laws are hazy, but here’s what happened:

On November 8, 2016, Maine voters approved Question #1 and joined eight other states to legalize the recreational use, retail sale, and taxation of marijuana. Following a recount and certification of election results, “An Act to Legalize Marijuana” was enacted. You can find the full “Act to Legalize Marijuana” and other background information in the 2016 Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

On January 27, 2017, the legislature approved a state-wide moratorium on implementing parts of the law regarding retail sales and taxation until at least February 2018, giving time to resolve issues and formulate rules. The portion of the law that did become effective on January 30, 2018, allows persons over 21 years to grow six mature plants and possess 2.5 ounces.

In February 2017 the Marijuana Implementation Committee was formed to address the complex issues surrounding full implementation of the law. Their first order of business is deciding which department will act as the state licensing authority. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) was named in the Act as the state licensing authority, but it has been proposed that the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) be the regulatory department. It is likely that oversight will be a joint effort between ACF and BABLO.

Towns Blazing Their Own Trail

Under the Legalization Act, a municipality can vote on whether or not to be a “dry town” regarding Marijuana Retail Establishments and Social Clubs. At this time, at least eight towns in our service area have voted and passed prohibition ordinances. Retail Marijuana Establishments and Social Clubs are banned in Athens, Bingham, Canaan, Madison, Moscow, Norridgewock, Skowhegan, and Starks.

If towns decide to allow these businesses, there are other measures that can be put in place to promote and protect the public health, safety, and welfare from the negative effects of legalization. Sign codes regulating the size and content of all types of outdoor signs can limit youth exposure. Potential fire hazards resulting from overloading circuits can be avoided with ordinances that allow law enforcement and building officials to inspect grows at any time.

Potential Chronic Problems

One in five high school students in our area report current marijuana use according to the Maine Integrative Youth Health Survey; this is twice as many youth that report current cigarette use. Perhaps more concerning is that 60 percent of our high school youth report a low perceived risk of harm from smoking one to two times a week. This is concerning because low perception of harm is linked to greater use. As with any other substance that causes impairment, there is potential for developing dependence; the earlier use starts the higher the risk for dependence becomes.

Planting the Prevention Seed

If you are a parent, talk to your child about substance use in their early teen years. You may be surprised at how much influence your words, actions, and opinions can have on their choices. Visit the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids for resources on talking to you child about marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs.

Somerset Public Health Supports Local Food Pantries

By Betsy Richard, MPH, MS, Community Health Educator, Somerset Public Health

Signs for food pantries

Hunger is impacting our neighbors and we may not even know about it. According to information gathered by Feeding America (2014), over 8,000 adults and 2,500 children live with food insecurity in Somerset County. Out of those individuals, over 20 percent are not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) or any other nutrition programs.

Somerset Public Health (SPH) has been working with food pantries across our county to help bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the pantries, assist in creating a sustainability plan, and help provide needed infrastructure.

In collaboration with the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Eastern Maine Health Care, SPH provides assistance to pantries through a CDC Partnership to Improve Community Health Care grant. SPH provided:

Posters for food pantries
Bulletin board with material provided by Somerset Public Health for clients to see which choices would be healthier choices.
  • 3,000 brochures for community agencies to promote the food pantries
  • 14 crates to be able to gather fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market
  • 7 pantry signs
  • 4 full-size refrigerators
  • 4 full-size freezers
  • 1 freezer/refrigerator combo
  • 1 produce display
  • 8 laptops with printers

Three food pantries also received additional shelving.

We will continue to support our local food pantries by helping them establish written nutrition policies, such as Go-Slow-Whoa, so that individuals are being educated that the healthiest choice is the easiest choice.

New Senior Gathering Places

Many creative and vibrant citizens live in rural communities. They connect in schools, churches, town halls, and coffee shops. The ongoing exchange of ideas at these gatherings is where the fabric of a community is woven. Distances to and between these physical sites tend to be greater if the community is rural—often much greater. Access to a social, educational, or service program may require a long, costly drive, very often in hazardous winter weather. As a result, staying involved may be impractical or impossible for many of Somerset County’s older residents.

Older residents may be left out of the conversations and interactions that are important for healthy living and healthy aging. According to the John T. Gorman Foundation, more than half of Maine seniors live in rural areas and half of low-income Maine seniors live alone. The Maine Health Access Foundation states that isolation and loneliness put older adults at a higher risk for poor health and mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. These outcomes increase the burden on families, care givers, and community resources. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 31 percent of Maine’s population will be 60 and older by the year 2030. Now is an excellent time to support local efforts geared toward meeting older residents’ needs. “Mug Up! A Senior Gathering Place” hopes to do just that.

“Mug Up!  A Senior Gathering Place” is a new initiative by Somerset Public Health (SPH) to help community organizations from Skowhegan to Moscow reach out to their older adults. A “Mug Up!” event can be something as small as a get-together for coffee to discuss issues of interest. Former SPH Project Director Bill Primmerman stated, “This is a collaborative effort with communities and their citizens; a ‘Mug Up!’ site is a community location which is organized by and for local seniors to socialize, increase their knowledge or skills, and access services and supports to live a healthy life in their community.” SPH has three goals for this new project:

  • Assist communities to organize new or expand existing social events of interest to older residents – Planning will be based on an assessment of local needs and resources and will be used to tailor programs to the needs and interests of the individual community. An SPH AmeriCorps member will help with this assessment.
  • Encourage sites to provide a variety of stimulating and informational programs, including healthy living education – SPH AmeriCorps members, trained in delivering evidence-based programs such as the National Diabetes Prevention Program and Living Well for Better Health, with chronic conditions program, will be available to provide local workshops.
  • Support and link older residents with service resources – SPH AmeriCorps members with Community Health Worker or similar training are familiar with service resources, many free or low cost. An example of a service might be helping an older resident find a primary care provider, connect with a transportation support, identify volunteer opportunities, or fill out important paperwork including online applications.

Two “Mug Up!” sites have been established with financial support from the Betterment Fund. The Social Citizens of Smithfield offers Coffee Talk on the first and third Fridays of each month, plus special events. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Somerset County and the Somerset Grange have partnered to offer a Skowhegan “Mug Up!,” which kicks off January 2017 with ongoing coffee socials on the second and fourth Wednesdays.  There is funding to start up to six more sites.

“Mug Up! A Senior Gathering Place” offers communities in Somerset County the tools to become more age-friendly and to work both independently and collaboratively to build a self-sustaining web of social, educational, and service-oriented supports for Somerset County’s older adults—supports to access resources and to help craft local solutions to aging-related challenges in their daily lives. Reducing a senior’s risk for poor physical and mental health is a move that benefits people of all ages. The community as a whole benefits if older adults are empowered to remain active and involved in their communities. For more information about “Mug Up!” sites, contact Deb Casey at Somerset Public Health at 207-858-8458 or

Announcing Resilience Re-Set Partnership

Untold numbers of students go to school each day distracted, angry, or highly anxious as a result of adverse experiences in their lives. Resilience Re-Set is a campaign to help communities understand why many of these students misbehave or disengage and to give adults resources to support students who live with toxic stress.

Resilience Re-Set launched in November and is led by KPJR Films in partnership with Childhood Abuse America, American Academy of Pediatrics, and others. Paper Tigers, a 90-minute documentary about the inspiring outcomes of trauma-informed education at a high school in Walla Walla, WA, and Resilience, an engaging new one-hour film on the science behind toxic stress, were both produced by KPJR Films.

“These films show us, through science and the stories of our young people, how adults are stepping up to help children who are exposed to adverse experiences,” said Jamie Redford, director, KPJR Films. “We hope the stories of children, educators and scientists grappling with the results of trauma help raise awareness, foster conversation and inspire action.”

“Resilience Re-Set is about moving from talk to taking action,” said Karen Pritzker, executive producer, KPJR Films. “We are grateful to Somerset Public Health and our other partners who are hosting resilience-building activities to promote cultures of hopefulness and understanding in their communities.”

“We see the film Resilience as an advocacy tool that we want to use across all sectors of our communities to help explain toxic stress, its impact on all those living in the crisis of the moment, and how students experiencing this function in schools,” said Danielle Denis, RN, community health educator at Somerset Public Health.

The first showing of Resilience was held Jan. 18 at the Skowhegan Area High School, drawing in 62 community members representing parents, healthcare, local government, educators, youth, social service agencies, youth, and youth-serving agencies. “This is a problem we can solve, but we must act together and invest human capital in coordinated efforts. It will take expertise and support from educators, school counselors, community psychologists, law enforcement, health experts, and elected officials.”

This dialogue will continue in an ongoing effort to reduce the dose of toxic stress that children are facing so that their stories can be refined to turn their adversity into assets. If you, your organization, or school would like to host a facilitated viewing of Resilience or Paper Tigers in Somerset County, send an email to or call Danielle Denis at 207-858-8463.

Other national Resilience Re-Set partners include ACES Connections, California Youth Endowment, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

On social media, please participate in Resilience Re-Set at or