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Older Adults Fuel Recreational Pot Use

In states where it's legal, a 'cannabis culture' is emerging

A group of eight people are seated at a table enjoying a meal next to an open garage door that shows a view of an evening sky

Carl Kiilsgaard for AARP

A cannabis dinner party on a house boat in Oregon City, Oregon.

En español | It's Friday night in downtown Oakland, California, and the monthly meeting of the T'Oakland Senior Canna Club is in full swing. There's an herbal tang in the air, soft music on the sound system and a pile of weed in the community rolling pan. The party on a deck overlooking Telegraph Avenue attracts up to 100 cannabis fans age 50 and up for “community, good food and good times — without having to hide or look over your shoulder,” says co-organizer Melodye Montgomery, 63. “We celebrate cannabis. It's a big extended family that really cares about each other."

As older adults turn to marijuana in record numbers, interest in the plant's recreational side is growing, too. The generation that camped at Woodstock, smoked furtively in 1970s dorm rooms or discovered cannabis later in life via its purported medical benefits is now relaxing and getting high for fun, too. In fact, it's boomers in particular, in charge of so many statehouses across the country, who now seem to be moving implacably forward to fully legalize the forbidden fruit of their youth. No surprise that across the nation, 58 percent of Americans 55 and older now say smoking pot is morally acceptable, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. Over 25 percent of Americans 50 and older — some 29 million — live in one of the 11 states or the District of Columbia where recreational pot is legal.

Where and how you can purchase and use pot varies widely even among the states that have legalized marijuana. And it remains illegal on federal lands, including national parks. But in some areas of the country, it's way out in the open as a “cannabis culture” has erupted, with cannabis-themed dinner parties, yoga sessions, art classes, vacation tours and even a night out at a local tavern.

In Oregon, where recreational marijuana became legal in 2015, you can sample edibles infused with cannabis at bakeries, restaurants and private dinners featuring “cannabis cuisine” — then work off the calories by getting “lit and fit” at a stoned exercise class.

"I'll have infused recipes — like lemon bars with a cannabis strain that derives its lemony scent from a compound called limonene,” notes Laurie Wolf, 65, the author of several cannabis cookbooks, who hosts dinner parties at her floating home near Portland. “But I'll also do an entire cannabis meal where I will infuse the starters with an uplifting strain and end with something a touch more sedating."

In one recent survey of Colorado residents age 60 to 94, a third said they smoke, vape or munch recreationally (versus medically). “At times, I have just as many older people taking the tour as younger people,” says guide Alayna Adair, 32, of Denver-based Colorado Cannabis Tours. “We stop at dispensaries and growing facilities, and people definitely indulge on the bus. I've had older people celebrate their birthday here. It's a real party.”

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