Dope Grannies: Can Cannabis Help Senior Citizens Survive?

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Why you should care

Cannabis may enter a golden age as boomers hit their golden years.

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Episode 1 of Dope Grannies, a video series on senior citizens and marijuana.

Number of medical- and recreational-marijuana dispensaries in the U.S.: 5,000

Number of medical-marijuana dispensaries in California: 1,200

Number of medical-marijuana dispensaries owned and run by a retired Catholic-school principal who’s also an ordained minister? Zero.

But if Sue Taylor gets her wish, that number will jump to one. The impeccably dressed 69-year-old may become just the latest example of how wide-reaching the debate over weed legalization is shaping up to be. In her case, she is making an aggressive case to convince seniors to use marijuana to deal with all the ailments that come along with being old. And just where is all this furor lighting up? Berkeley, of course.

Saying she’s never tried a blunt in her life, the self-styled “cannabis evangelist” is one of six finalists vying for a chance to open the town’s fourth legal medical-marijuana dispensary — and the first in the state (and the country) catering specifically to senior citizens. “I am the least likely person in the world to be doing this,” she says. A mother of three, she says she first started taking edibles four years ago to deal with back pain, swallowing 1/8th of a cannabis gummy. Convinced by its effectiveness, she has been hitting local senior centers, nursing homes and churches, chatting up the pain-easing value of pot that seniors might ignore.

Critics, of course, continue to say that spreading marijuana use — which is now legal for medical use in more than 20 states — carries a number of risks, including increasing criminal behavior and influencing teens. Brook Lowe, treasurer of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, points to the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has not recognized marijuana as a safe or effective treatment for any medical conditions. What’s more, few neighborhoods are crazy about having a dispensary in the ’hood. But Taylor has a convincing spiel for her audience of seniors: She used to consider marijuana a hard drug, but she now sees it as medicinal and full of curative appeal, combating aches and pains, loss of appetite and insomnia. With the average senior prescribed between 14 and 18 prescription drugs per year, Taylor says, cannabis could cut that number drastically.

An African-American with roots in Louisiana, she says her generation was raised to “follow the rules.” She also says convincing elderly African-Americans has been a particular challenge; after years of seeing young lives upended by the drug trade and the uneven policing around it, the Black community has been slow to seek opportunity in the multibillion-dollar legal-marijuana industry. But Taylor half-jokingly has a thought on that: “Why should white folks be the only ones to profit?”

For her own dispensary, which she would call iCANN, Taylor wants to convert a dingy, old, 3,900-square-foot space on Sacramento Street to a gleaming shop that not only stocks marijuana salves, tinctures and low-salt and low-sugar edibles for grannies with diabetes or high blood pressure, but also serve as a holistic health center. But first, she needs that permit, which has her filling out the lengthy paperwork and learning city ordinances. Still, a spiritual calm surrounds the ordained minister, who believes her connection to cannabis was “a spark of the divine.”

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People shaking up their fields, old dogs doing new tricks, and those who like to bring the ruckus.