America's Baby-Boomer Potheads Are Toking More—and More Openly
Photo Credit: Zip 420
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As US marijuana laws evolve and society distances itself from previous prohibitionist attitudes, the baby boomer generation (born roughly 1946-1964), is smoking pot at an ever higher rate—or at least more of them are admitting it. As of 2011, 6.3% of adults between ages 50 and 59 reported using marijuana, up from 2.7% in 2002, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. "There's a resurgence of interest in pot and psychedelics in baby boomers," Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, tells The Fix. "Many of them had experience with these substances in college, then gave them up for their families and careers. Now that they're retiring and no longer working, they're more open." Doblin, who is 59 and has been a regular toker since he was 17, says his marijuana use has become more "work-oriented" as he's gotten older. "I better understand how to use [pot] for activity rather than just relaxation," he explains. "It goes terrific with exercise and physical labor. Older people understand this better."
Doblin says the stigma of pot has decreased in recent decades, and many baby boomers now have a "longer-term perspective" about marijuana after witnessing scare stories blow over. "We've watched for 40 years and have found a lot of these claims [about the dangers of pot] to be untrue," he says. Many older adults also feel freer to use the drug now that their children have grown up and left home. Though not all of them are completely open about it. "What's so ironic to me is how many people grew up hiding marijuana from their parents," says Doblin, "and now they're hiding marijuana from their kids."
In addition to recreational use, boomers are increasingly using pot to medicate the physical effects of aging. Medical marijuana is now legal in 11 states and can be purchased from dispensaries. "A lot of retired people have aches and pains," Doblin says. "[Pot] promotes health and reorients your view of physical pain or stress." Hal, 56, a restaurant worker from New Jersey who is sometimes on his feet for 12-hour shifts, tells The Fix that he uses pot as a replacement for prescription medication. "Through our whole life, people are self-medicating somehow," he says, "I'd rather smoke pot than take pills."
Robin, 65, says "dope" (marijuana) has become "fairly common" among aging adults in the Boston suburb where she lives. "My feeling is that it is like alcohol—for some people it's fine, and for some it's an issue," she tells us. "Most of the adults I know who smoke it are pretty functional. They use it as a sedative more than anything else—as a relaxant, in place of drinking." Compared to alcohol, she says pot is "a much safer drug in a lot of ways, because you're not as impaired. You can drive; you just drive too slowly, rather than too fast or carelessly." She adds that pot seems "benign," saying: "people don't go into murderous rages when they're stoned, but they can when they're drunk." But while most of her generation is capable of managing their marijuana use, she sees the drug as more of a problem among younger people. "It concerns me when I see young twenty-somethings who do nothing but smoke it," she says, "but I don't see it as a problem for [older] adults."