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Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes Up as Boomers Age

Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes Up as Boomers Age

(Source: AP)

Associated Press/AP Online

February 24, 2010

MIAMI – In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.

Long a fixture among young people, use of the country’s most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s grows older.

The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.

Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.

Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habit in retirement, either for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of aging.

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Siegel walks with a cane and has arthritis in her back and legs. She finds marijuana has helped her sleep better than pills ever did. And she can’t figure out why everyone her age isn’t sharing a joint, too.

“They’re missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief,” she said.

Politically, advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of older users could represent an important shift in their decades-long push to change the laws.

“For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the ‘Reefer Madness’ mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug,” said Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group.

“Now, whether they resume the habit of smoking or whether they simply understand that it’s no big deal and that it shouldn’t be a crime, in large numbers they’re on our side of the issue.”

Each night, 66-year-old Stroup says he sits down to the evening news, pours himself a glass of wine and rolls a joint. He’s used the drug since he was a freshman at Georgetown, but many older adults are revisiting marijuana after years away.


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