Shuffleboard? Oh, Maybe Let’s Get High Instead
Cher Neufer of Akron, Ohio, started smoking marijuana at 21 and still indulges with her friends. “It’s just a social thing,” she said.
By ALYSON KRUEGER
For Cher Neufer, a 65-year-old retired teacher, socializing with friends (all in their 60s) means using marijuana. Once a week they get together to play Texas Hold ’Em poker “and pass around a doobie,” Ms. Neufer said.
Dan Gill for The New York Times
Vickie Hoffman is organizing a Missouri chapter of Grannies for Grass.
When company stops by her home in Akron, Ohio, she offers a joint, and when it’s someone’s birthday, a bong is prepared. She even hosts summer campfires where the older folk listen to the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles; eat grilled steaks and hot dogs; and get high (not necessarily in that order).
“It’s nice,” Ms. Neufer said. “It’s just a social thing. It’s like when people get together, and they crack open their beers.”
Statistics suggest that more members of the older generations, like Ms. Neufer, are using marijuana. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2011 that 6.3 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 59 used the drug. That number has risen from 2.7 percent in 2002.
And anecdotal evidence points to much of this use being sociable rather than medical.
When 70-year-old Robert Platshorn, a marijuana activist who was jailed for three decades after dealing the drug, moved into a gated community in West Palm Beach, Fla., three years ago, he said he “met people in my development who were looking strange at me.” Now, he said, couples invite him to their condominiums to get high together (Mr. Platshorn insisted he never accepts these offers).
Moms for Marijuana International, a pro-marijuana group that brings people together to socialize and learn about the positive aspects of the plant, has received so many queries from older people over the past year that it is creating chapters called Grannies for Grass in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri.
“There are groups out there that have trivia night and they have get-togethers,” said Vickie Hoffman, 46, a grandmother of three and a former bartender who is organizing the Missouri chapter. “It is fun, and it’s a group of great people.”
Mason Tvert, the communication director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that works to change marijuana laws, said he started consuming marijuana about two years ago with his grandparents, Helen and Leo Shuller, who are 82 and 88. Now, when they get together, they “have a little bit off the vaporizer,” he said, either before or after dinner, and enjoy the effects.
The dinners aren’t “centered around using marijuana, like a little invitation with a leaf on it,” Mr. Tvert hastened to point out. “There just happens to be marijuana available.”
It makes sense that the baby boom generation and people a little younger might be more casual and open about marijuana use; after all, they grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, when getting high was the norm. According to Richard J. Bonnie, the author of “Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States,” in 1971 a national commission on marijuana drug use even recommended decriminalizing the drug, something that, for many people, was “recognized as a perfectly sensible proposal,” he said.
Some pot smokers of decades ago simply never stopped indulging with their friends. Indeed, Ms. Neufer, a self-proclaimed hippie (“I will be forever in my heart, and in my mind,” she said), started smoking at 21 and has been growing pot in her backyard and organizing drug-fueled sing-a-longs ever since.
She pointed out that those who have moved on from corporate work might feel more comfortable revealing and sharing their marijuana use.
“Most of us are either retiring or are retired,” Ms. Neufer said. “You don’t have to worry about your job knowing, so it’s a little easier for us. I don’t care if you use my name, I don’t care if they know!”
Though, she added, “I know a lot of professional people who still have high-level jobs are still very nervous about it.” (In Ohio, possessing or using small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor.)
It also helps, perhaps, that most are empty nesters, no longer concerned with setting a good example for their children or having drugs within reach of minors. Many grandparents “are at a stage in their life where it doesn’t make a difference,” said Diane-Marie Williams, executive director of administration of Moms for Marijuana International and a grandmother herself. “They’ve raised their families, they’ve done their careers, and at this point I think they are saying, ‘O.K., I’m not jeopardizing my family.’ ”
Marijuana’s legal strides have also made it a lot easier for people to publicize or at least not hide their drug use.
“It did so much good having Washington and Colorado legalize, having 18 states that have medical, and 14 more states that have decriminalized,” Mr. Platshorn said. “That helps people come out of the closet.”
Mr. and Ms. Shuller, for example, made it clear that they use marijuana only with their family when they are in states where it is decriminalized or legal for medical reasons.
“That’s maybe something they would find troubling,” Mr. Tvert said about his grandparents. “To break the law.”
And the drug’s therapeutic effects, which have been more accepted by the medical world in recent years, offer further incentive.
Ms. Hoffman, who lives in Grubville, Mo. (population about 100), has Crohn’s disease and other medical problems. She said she barely has the energy to socialize without the drug.
“Me getting around is a little bit rough,” she said, but after using marijuana, she feels healthier. “I can do more things. We play croquet. We do things out in the yard, and if I don’t have it I can barely walk across the floor. It’s a big pick-me-up.”
Ms. Shuller, who has arthritis in almost every part of her body, said she loves how pot relieves her pain without leaving her with the negative side effects of painkillers or alcohol.
“I had never tried it before,” she said of her first time consuming the drug two years ago, “and it didn’t bother me at all. It felt good, and it’s certainly better than alcohol, which is draggy and sometimes leaves you sick.”
So many older people value how the drug makes them feel, Ms. Williams said, that they even cook with the cannabis, putting it on salads or in the tea they drink before they go to bed. They also exchange recipes online through the Moms for Marijuana International Web site.
Ms. Hoffman said, “All my friends are as educated on the subject as I am, and if they aren’t, I keep trying to make them.”
Ms. Neufer added: “It’s like as you get older, it’s not something you do all the time, but you still do it. It’s still something you like. It still makes you feel good.”