Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2010
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2010 The Associated Press
Author: Matt Sedensky, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United States)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)
Bookmark: (NORML)


Advocates Hope to Get Boost From Boomers in Legalization Effort

In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of 
red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it 
from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every 
night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.

Long a fixture among young people, use of the country's most popular 
illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive 
generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older.

The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the 
prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, 
according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health 
Services Administration.

Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 
1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma 
it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.

Politically, advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of 
older users could represent an important shift in their decades-long 
push to change the laws.

"For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans 
who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the 
'Reefer Madness' mentality and they considered marijuana a very 
dangerous drug," said Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, 
a marijuana advocacy group.  "Now whether they resume the habit of 
smoking or whether they simply understand that it's no big deal and 
it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."

The drug is credited with relieving many problems of aging: aches and 
pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and so on. Patients in 14 
states enjoy medical marijuana laws, but those elsewhere buy or grow 
the drug illegally to ease their conditions.

But there's also the risk that health problems already faced by older 
people can be exacerbated by regular marijuana use.

Older users could be at risk for falls if they become dizzy, smoking 
it increases the risk of heart disease and it can cause cognitive 
impairment, said Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative 
medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

"There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he said.
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