Archaic stereotypes of the weed buyer have gone up in smoke. Cannabis relies on market data now more than ever in order to evolve, and studies show an increase in people seeking out cannabis for health reasons—especially older people.
Senior citizens are the fastest growing group of cannabis consumers, due mostly to the plant’s goldmine of pain relief and anti-aging properties, and partly to the fact that many no longer give a hoot what others think. The benefits of cannabis for seniors are huge, and new applications for the plant are continuously being discovered.
What’s interesting is that older adults tend to be picky about where they pick up their supply, refusing to conform to channels that have become the norm in medical marijuana states.
Even with regulation, for many seniors, local dispensary options are slim, or storefronts simply don’t provide the level of quality and knowledge they’re looking for. In such cases, seniors flex their experience and create new community-based solutions.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times put the spotlight on Laguna Woods Medical Cannabis, a group of residents in an Orange County senior living community who took matters into their own hands when there was no dispensary to serve them. Members grow and distribute medicinal strains, including high-CBD strains, to their peers in a way that is comfortable for them. Many residents had expressed fears and doubts regarding the quality of products on dispensary shelves, or the lack of discretion involved with walking into a storefront—proving that these are discerning and trend-setting consumers.
Apart from mainstream media recognition, specialized educational websites are popping up to cater to an older audience. Longtime cannabis activist and author Cheri Sicard created the website Senior Stoner earlier this year to provide information to the population that has the most to gain from using the plant. Articles on the site cater to the curiosities and needs of the older demographic.
“For many seniors, this is their second dance with Mary Jane; they used it when they were younger, but stopped because of kids, jobs, or stigma,” says Sicard. “Health and aging topics have been very popular—how cannabis can be used to prevent Alzheimer's and cut down on the dependence on prescription drugs, new information on cannabis and driving—issues that are relatable.”
These sites offer the basic facts about cannabinoid science and policy news, as well as senior-specific lifestyle and product articles to get people thinking about different ways to use cannabis.
So, based on what we know now, how exactly do seniors want to buy cannabis?
In states with medical programs, there are some delivery-only collectives operating in somewhat of a legal grey area. Some of these specialize in home deliveries to senior citizens, offering plenty of useful information, promising high quality, and even offering a new smoke buddy.
Many seniors with a little time on their hands are opting to grow their own medicine and share amongst their friends, family, or neighbors. This way, they circumvent the dispensaries’ high prices and questionable quality, while remaining compliant with state medical marijuana laws.
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Scotty Sumpter of Groveland, Calif.’s Mountain Men Organics, serves as both a cultivator and caregiver for many seniors. “As the grower, I’m able to ensure quality of the starting product,” he says. “Then I work with others, such as extractors and cooks, to make quality products; that way I have many different options for my patients to choose from. I’m lucky to have contacts with several senior care facilities, which puts me in contact with people in need. It's hard for anyone to find good products for affordable prices, but especially seniors, who are mostly on fixed incomes. It's so important for them to find cultivator-caregivers like me who can provide them with the care they need.”
In my budtending days, I met several amazing caregivers. However, far too many overestimate the number of older people who want, or can afford, this type of care. Never assume that seniors can just have someone else pick up everything for them; most are living independently, even with medical issues.
“As a caregiver I have gotten to know a diverse group of seniors,” says caregiver Denise Wilson. “Their product preference varies depending on their degree of illness. If they’re old-school, most prefer to just smoke flowers, and I think that speaks to the culture. However, there are many more that prefer pills or capsules because it feels more like medicine. Many are wary of entering a dispensary because of the stigma, and choose a caregiver for that reason.”
Oftentimes, the lines are not so clearly drawn. Many seniors are living on a lower or fixed income and must budget accordingly for their medical cannabis. Linda, a senior from Bonita, Calif., prefers to follow the best prices for the best quality medicine she can find. “Special deals move my wheels,” she says. “I am a member of several collectives, from delivery, to dispensaries, to smaller groups who grow their own. Though typically, I do prefer shopping at a storefront collective, so I can see and smell some of the medicine before I buy.”
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Whether it’s their first time, or they’re reliving their youth, it’s refreshing to see seniors becoming conscious consumers, embracing cannabis culture and imparting their own wisdom to the industry.