SAN DIEGO –– One unexpected wrinkle in the emerging market for legal cannabis is the rising interest among seniors.
Although most seniors do not use marijuana, the population of older users is rapidly growing, attracted by claims of pain relief but wary of pot’s stigma.
While legal marijuana is new to California, cannabis is an old companion to Lee, who declined to provide his last name.
“I’ve been using since I was a junior in college in, what, 1966?” said the 70-year-old real estate broker, browsing in Torrey Holistics, a Sorrento Valley cannabis dispensary. “I never thought I’d live to see the day it was legal.”
Even before Jan. 1, when California legalized recreational marijuana, it was enjoying a gray renaissance. Between 2006 and 2013, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health reported a 250 percent rise in marijuana use by Americans 65 and older. This is still a small number, climbing from 0.4 percent to 1.4 percent of that population, but local dispensaries see plenty of silver-haired shoppers.
“This is probably the most interested — and wariest — group,” said Lincoln Fish, CEO of Outco, noting that the average customer at his Outliers Collective in El Cajon is over 58 years old.
Older consumers add a new aspect to the legal cannabis trade. Retirees tend to be less interested in getting high and more interested in getting relief from pain, anxiety and insomnia. Many are skittish about being identified as a user. (Lee and most of the other seniors interviewed for this story declined to be photographed or give their full names.)
“There’s a stigma around marijuana use,” said Michelle Sexton, a naturopathic doctor assisting in a medical cannabis study at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s got this whole negative connotation.