There was a setback earlier this year when the U.S. attorney general gave federal prosecutors the green light to override the states, but the movement has not slowed down culturally or economically.
In fact, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health found cannabis use rose from nearly 3% in 2003 to just over 9% by 2014 among U.S. residents 50 to 64 years … while individuals older than 65 rocketed more than tenfold, going from 0.2% to 2.1%.
The trend got a jump start in 2000 when 54% of voters in Colorado supported the use of medical marijuana, allowing citizens to possess up to a couple ounces of the plant for purposes of treatment. (Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.)
However, a new study from the University of Colorado has found that the seniors who need marijuana the most are the very ones who are having trouble getting it.
In 2017, the team surveyed 136 people over age 60 at Colorado senior centers, health clinics, and cannabis dispensaries in 2017.
Most participants said they had difficulties accessing medical cannabis, citing lack of education among physicians about medical marijuana. Many complained of confusion about how to access a medical marijuana card.
Bottom line: Many older users said they’d rather pay higher prices at a recreational dispensary than deal with the bureaucratic complexities of registering for medical marijuana.
It’s a legitimate public health issue, one that serves as a cautionary tale for the other states that have followed Colorado’s lead in legalizing pot without educating residents and facilitating the marketplace.
The Colorado study found many were reluctant to use medical marijuana because of stigma surrounding the use of cannabis, and that it was hard to learn about its benefits from a trusted source.
Like most states that have approved medical use, Colorado’s law allows for cannabis treatments of the following: cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; chronic nervous system disorders; epilepsy and other disorders characterized by seizures; glaucoma; HIV or AIDS; multiple sclerosis and other disorders characterized by muscle spasticity; and nausea.
It’s a list that affects millions of older Americans nationwide, but educational and accessibility issues still stand in the way.
Part of the problem is that pot can’t be purchased at pharmacies alongside other medications — it has to be bought at a separate dispensary — and traditional doctors, who might have long-standing relationships with their elderly patients, might not be quick to provide written medical consent.
State governments might have brought cannabis out of the shadows, but there still is a ways to go before patients can obtain a prescription as easily as they do opioids and other medications.