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Senior Citizens Are the Fastest-Growing Demographic Embracing Cannabis

Your grandparents might be cooler than you give them credit for.

By
Sophie Saint Thomas

People like to rag on boomers for never changing, but at least when it comes to cannabis, seniors are ready to get down (and get high). The number of Americans over 65 who have used cannabis nearly tripled over a decade, rising from 11% in 2009 to 32% in 2019, according to a federal survey, The Hill reports. Additionally, over half of the 60-64 demographic reported cannabis use. 

While other generations like to hate on baby boomers for regressive attitudes, in their defense, many of them did come of age in the 1960s and 70s, the era of psychedelic music and free love. While it’s easy for younger folks to assume they agree with the nonsensical (and non-scientific) Reagan War on Drugs era, our grandparents might be more excited about the recent ongoing legalization of cannabis than expected. At least, that’s what the data from this recent survey shows. 

In addition to having been alive for the heydey of revolutionaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, who made some of our century’s most extraordinary weed-inspired art, seniors have another reason to use cannabis: they have health problems. Much of the over-60 crowd struggles with treating insomnia, pain, anxiety, arthritis, cancer, and more.   

“There are many things that I would not do any more if I didn’t have cannabis,” Daniel, 61, who lives and works on a Wisconsin farm, told The Hill. “I wouldn’t do it because it hurts too much.” Uthe says he smokes weed “a little bit recreationally, maybe once a month, but way more for pain control.” As both brands of cannabis users know, the line dividing medical and recreational use is thinner than people often make it out to be. For example, it’s okay if using cannabis to treat anxiety also comes with a nice buzz, and it’s okay if using cannabis for the aforementioned buzz also helps your anxiety. 

While they’re the fastest-growing demographic, boomers are still less likely to light up regularly than other generations. According to stats from 2021, about 5% of Americans over 54 and 10% of the 60-64 age group reported using cannabis in the past month, compared to 24% of adults 25 and under. However, these stats aren’t entirely reliable. While it’s important to remember that many older Americans aren’t as regressive as the “okay boomer” memes make them out to be, some may still be holding onto the just-say-no stigma inflicted on them by Reagan-era politics. And as a result, it’s quite likely that more seniors are using cannabis but staying quiet about it.  

“Since 2009, we’ve seen a big increase in cannabis use prevalence across all age groups, all demographic groups, with older people participating in that, kind of for the first time,” said William Kerr, senior scientist at the nonprofit Alcohol Research Group, who also researches cannabis, told The Hill, adding that some seniors “are not admitting [using cannabis] on surveys.”

A 2023 Gallup poll recently found that half of Americans have tried cannabis. To put that in perspective, the same data collection found that 34% of adults had tried marijuana in 1999 and 4% in 1969. However, once again, this data could also reflect the increasing legalization and social acceptance of weed. It’s quite likely that people were using more marijuana in previous years yet only have felt comfortable admitting that to pollsters recently. 

But fear not, younger folks reading this. You’re still at the forefront. Federal data shows that over two-fifths of adults between the ages 19-30 now use cannabis. The majority of such folks may live in legal states, demonstrating that federal legalization could indeed help fight the stigma regarding marijuana. 

And even older people (around the age of most of our presidential candidates) have been slower to welcome cannabis legalization, not to mention actually consume any. According to Pew Research Center data from the fall of 2022, only 30% of Americans over 75 supported legalizing recreational marijuana. This reflects the views of a generation, aka the “silent generation,” born between 1928 and 1945, before recreational weed was a mainstream part of society, even if it was an illicit one. “It’s really the silent generation and every generation before that,” Kerr tells The Hill. “They weren’t exposed to it when they were young and had negative opinions about it for many years.”  

Compared to their predecessors, Boomers are pretty chill. The same Pew survey shows that 53% of Americans between the ages of 65-74 age group support adult-use cannabis, a figure which reflects the national average. 

However, while this data regarding open-minded, pot-smoking boomers is exciting, remember that it’s due to societal and legal changes. Just because folks who were adults during the Reagan era are open-minded doesn’t mean that the War on Drugs didn’t have a negative impact. Cannabis use plummeted during the Reagan era of the 1980s, with most boomers shying away from the herb during that time, as it was very illegal, harder to get, and came with more risk and fear than it does now. Sometimes, even with countless more hurdles towards legalization to cross, it’s important to remember how far we have come. 

Sophie Saint Thomas

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