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Brookline health officials to study impacts of retail marijuana on community, youth

Employees (left) wait on customers at New England Treatment Access, Brookline’s first retail pot shop, when it opened in 2019.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Brookline’s health department is launching a study to examine whether the legalization of retail marijuana has had any impact on the community, particularly the town’s youth, officials said.

The study’s results will be used by Brookline’s Substance Awareness and Violence Prevention Program and its partners to develop future initiatives to address marijuana use among youth and other community members, according to a town statement.

“There’s been a lot of dialogue and discussion around marijuana ... but I don’t think we truly know the impacts yet,” Sigalle Reiss, Brookline’s director of Public Health & Human Services, said in an interview. “I really want to make sure we use a scientific research-based approach, and really enter this without any biases, because I think that’s the way we’ll get really good data at the end.”


The town’s Health Department has contracted Boston-based Health Resources in Action to conduct the study. The nonprofit provides research, evaluation, strategic planning, and program support services around the country, the statement said.

The study will examine issues like whether there has been any change in the use of marijuana by young people, and if there have been changes in attitudes since Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. New England Treatment Access, Brookline’s first retail pot shop, opened in 2019.

Reiss said three retail marijuana shops have opened in Brookline, and a fourth is expected to open soon.

In Massachusetts, only those 21 and older may buy, use, possess, or grow recreational marijuana, according to state law.

The Brookline Health Department also has established a 15-member steering committee to advise the research process. It includes parents, school officials, students, a police representative, a social worker, public health experts, and a representative from New England Treatment Access, according to Reiss, who also serves on the panel.


New England Treatment Access did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Both Reiss and Dr. Rosemarie Roqué Gordon, a pediatrician who serves on the steering committee and the town’s Advisory Council on Public Health, said the study’s goal is not to advocate for stricter regulations on legal retail sales in the town.

They said retailers in Brookline have been responsible, and are not marketing their products to young people.

“No one in Brookline, including marijuana sellers, wants children and teenagers to use marijuana,” Gordon said in an interview.

The Health Department began the project after the advisory council determined the town needed to take a deeper look at the retail marijuana issue in Brookline, according to Gordon.

The study will look at whether the availability of retail marijuana to adults has changed attitudes toward marijuana and its use. It will conduct focus groups with students, parents, and other stakeholders, and look at how, for example, parents talk about marijuana use with their children.

“Marijuana existed in Brookline and all of our surrounding communities before the dispensaries. So how will this change it?” Gordon said. “We want to know whether there is an impact, and then whether the impact is greater on certain populations, especially children.”

It also will review other available data on attitudes and use of marijuana, including Brookline’s Student Health Survey. Data from 2021 showed a decline in reported marijuana use among the town’s ninth to 12th graders.

In 2021, 11 percent of students reported using marijuana during the month before the survey, down from 17 percent in 2017. Reiss said researchers want to know more about that shift, and are considering whether it was affected by stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.


“One of our hypotheses is that youth weren’t exposed to peer pressure, and to each other, and didn’t have as much access to [marijuana],” Reiss said. “We’re really looking at this data, we’re going [to] see if that continued, or it went up in the other direction.”

Reiss said the study will include a preliminary and final report from Health Resources in Action, and anticipates the work will be completed in July. HRA also will include recommendations to help address public health issues related to marijuana, if any are identified in the report.

“For me, the greatest goal is to understand the landscape [and] where there are areas where we can take action, whether that be with policy or programming, to reduce those risks,” Reiss said. “We know every community has limited resources, and we want to make sure the policies we’re instituting have an effect.”

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.