Face it: some American seniors are pot heads. Why won’t senior living providers admit that?
Well, maybe they’ll admit it — but they sure won’t talk to me about it.
In my recent quest to learn more about various senior living providers’ policies on marijuana use, I hit an unexpected brick wall. Several of the providers to whom I reached out — in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, mind you — seemed hesitant to give me concrete answers about whether their communities permit their residents to use marijuana for any purpose. Others flat-out ignored my questions.
Even if providers are unwilling to clue me in on their residents’ pot habits, they’ll eventually have some answering to do to prospective residents, if the latest results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are any indication.
Approximately 1.3% of Americans 65 or older surveyed by the CDC in 2014 had used marijuana within the 30 days prior to being surveyed. At first, this might seem inconsequential — 1.3% hardly indicates seniors have reefer madness. But, back in 2002, only 0.3% of Americans 65 or older reported having used marijuana within the preceding 30 days.
In other words, the number of retirement-age Americans using marijuana grew 333% in 12 years.
Seniors are obviously warming to the idea of marijuana — what’s preventing senior living in states like Colorado and Washington from talking openly about it?
The number of states where anyone can smoke marijuana legally is relatively small, but growing. Medical marijuana, meanwhile, is currently legal in 26 states, plus Washington, D.C.
Just because it’s legal, though, doesn’t mean senior living providers are any more willing to allow cannabis in their communities.
Some senior living communities have logistical concerns about marijuana use, according to Sue Taylor. Taylor is a California woman in her late 60s who, as of June 2016, was one of only two people certified by the State of California to educate senior living community caregivers and staff about medical marijuana.
“Some [senior living providers] do not want, nor do they have a protocol on how, to store the cannabis,” Taylor told Jezebel. “They’re worried about storage. So, I say to them, you store it like you do the Vicodin and Oxycodone and morphine, substances that are familiar.”
Other common concerns? Dosage — “What you might take might be totally different from what I might take, you see,” Taylor said — and compliance with federal law — “A lot of those places use federal money, and they’re afraid that they’re gonna lose their license or funding,” she explained.
Sure, the issue of marijuana in senior living is complex, evolving and relatively new. But having the guts to discuss it could help providers gain a competitive edge.
Time to lighten up
Senior living providers who are choosing to put off marijuana policy decisions or are ruling its use out entirely may soon be in for a rude awakening. After all, the number of Americans between 55 and 64 years old who use marijuana grew 455% between 2002 and 2014, according to the CDC.
These Americans, undoubtedly, are senior living’s next target audience.
Senior living sales and marketing teams know how difficult it can be to persuade older Americans to move from their long-time homes into senior living. In years past, seniors feared losing their independence; now, hundreds of thousands will fear losing their marijuana. If senior living providers don’t start having open, honest conversations with prospective residents about their marijuana policies, they could lose out not only on residents fond of hash oil, but on residents who value transparency.
So, to all senior living providers: chill out. If your communities don’t have marijuana policies, make them. If they do, share them. Don’t hide behind smokescreens; it’s 2016, seniors are vaping, and they want their pot.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson