As Cannabis Laws Loosen, Baby Boomers Come Aboard

After decades of just saying no, older Americans are saying “yes.”

Illustration by James the Stanton

It should come as no surprise that the fastest-growing group of cannabis consumers in Washington state and other parts of the U.S. are baby boomers. Many boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, smoked weed in their 20s, but stopped as public opinion swayed toward the “Just Say No” attitudes of the ’80s. Now, as they reach retirement and have much less to lose, many are turning back to cannabis.

A Johns Hopkins/Temple University paper recently reported a “significant” surge in cannabis usage among older people nationwide. Researchers found a 450 percent increase for people 50 to 64, a 333 percent increase for people 65 and over. According to the paper, Washington’s senior usage is slightly higher than the country’s average.

Part of that increase is likely due to the massive changes in weed as a product. Gone are the days of mystery baggies filled with stems, seeds, and shake of questionable origin. Now consumers are provided with a buffet of options, from top-quality flowers in prerolled joints for people with arthritis to yummy sodas and hard candies for folks with asthma or COPD.

Also gone, or diminishing, is the stigma of being a “stoner.” The same generation responsible for “DARE” and “Just say no” are, more and more it seems, just saying yes. The boomer generation is coming out of the “pot closet” and opening up about how integral cannabis is to their well-being.

And this is leading to some pretty interesting trends. In a paper about retiree migration, UCLA professor Michale Stoll cites anecdotal evidence that green-friendly states are seeing an influx of seniors and retirees who want to live where they have easy access to safe, legal, high-quality cannabis. These folks are not just settling into their retirement homes and waiting out their remaining days; they’re re-entering the workforce and increasing the amount they work, with many older folks reporting that cannabis is better at controlling some of the commoner ailments of old age, including chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, loss of appetite, and depression. This in turn is allowing them to stay more active and more connected to their community longer. Further, in another study, University of Georgia professor W. David Bradford found that these same states are also seeing dramatic drops in Medicare claims as people begin to move away from prescription pharmaceuticals and toward self-medicating with cannabis.

However, for a very large portion of seniors, cannabis is still a risky bet due to its Schedule 1 status. For older folks living in any kind of assisted housing, cannabis use is forbidden. All assisted-living facilities receive federal funding and fall under federal regulation, leaving these retirees with a tough decision: continue to use opiates and other pharmaceuticals with diminishing results, or switch to cannabis and risk losing housing.

It will be interesting to see how this generation influences pot policy in the years to come. More boomers voted for Trump than any other demographic, but let’s not forget that this is also the generation that came out strongest against the Vietnam War and stood up for civil rights, women’s rights, and abortion rights. Perhaps now, unfettered from their families and careers, boomers will turn their collective power and free time toward D.C. policy-makers and use their golden years for the good of the country.

stashbox@seattlweekly.com

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