When you think of typical cannabis consumers, your grandma and grandpa may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But statistics show that seniors (and we’re not talking about high school seniors) are the fastest-growing cannabis consumers. The number of over-65 Americans using marijuana has tripled over the last decade.
Seniors are the Fastest Growing Cannabis Consumers
Statistics from a federal survey on drug use show that the number of senior Americans who use cannabis has shot up from 11% in 2009 to 32% in 2019. More than half of people 60-64 report using cannabis revealing another steep increase.
The Appeal of Marijuana for Consumers
The increase of seniors as cannabis consumers is evidence of the rising acceptance and legalization of marijuana. It’s also typical behavior as baby boomers, who used cannabis in the 1960s, are now entering their twilight years.
Many also use cannabis for pain relief, better sleep, and less anxiety.
“There are many things that I would not do anymore if I didn’t have cannabis,” said 61-year-old Wisconsin farm worker Daniel Uthe. “I wouldn’t do it because it hurts too much.
Older Cannabis Consumers vs. Younger Cannabis Consumers
While older cannabis consumers are the fastest-growing market, they still trail younger users. The survey reveals that just 5% of over-65 Americans and 10% of 60-64 Americans reported using cannabis in the past month as of 2021 as compared to 24% of adults under 25.
However, it is also suspected that older adults are skittish to admit their marijuana use on surveys.
Cannabis Consumers Throughout the Nation
The survey did not only research cannabis use among older adults. It looked at cannabis use throughout the nation.
It found that more than half of adults in every age group reported using marijuana at least once. This is the first time Gallup pollsters found half of Americans have tried marijuana, based on a poll running over 50 years. The same poll found 34% of adults had tried marijuana in 1999 as compared to just 4% in 1969.
The biggest percentage of cannabis users lie in the 19-30 range. More than 2/5 of adults in that age group say they use cannabis at least on occasion. Experts predict marijuana users will soon account for most young adults in legalized states.
The Silent Generation
Older adults are typically slow to accept weed legalization. A Pew Research survey showed only 30% of Americans over 75 support legalizing marijuana.
Groups born between 1928 and 1945 have been nicknamed the silent generation. They came of age before recreational weed was accepted by teens during the Summer of Love.
“It’s the silent generation and every generation before that,” says William Kerr, cannabis researcher and senior scientist at the nonprofit Alcohol Research Group. “They weren’t exposed to it when they were young and had negative opinions about it for many years.
Baby Boomers Emerge as Rising Cannabis Consumers
The silent generation sharply contrasts the baby boomers who fall into the 65–74-year-old age group. The Pew Survey revealed that 53% of American baby boomers support recreational weed, close to the national average.
Many baby boomers entered adulthood in the 1970s, a time when weed use was at a peak. 36% of Americans ages 18 to 25 reported using recreational weed in the past month in 1979.
Marijuana use declined in the 1980s following the federal war on drugs. It fluctuated in the following years but remained low. Its illegal status made it hard to obtain and risky to use.
Attitudes Towards Weed are Changing
It took some time for older adults to accept weed, even after it was legalized.
“Some of them were completely against it, even up until five or 10 years ago. Completely against it, never used it,” said Kimberly Cargile, CEO of the Sacramento dispensary A Therapeutic Alternative. “The conversation changed when cannabis became mainstream, and their children started educating them about it.”
Recreational dispensaries with daytime hours were a game-changer for older adults. They no longer associated weed purchases with meeting a dealer late at night in a parking lot.
“It’s become this craft beer industry,” said Brenden Dougherty, CEO of plant-based wellness company MDbio. “All of the sudden, the boomer generation is saying, ‘I can trust this now.’”
The Difference Between Older and Younger Cannabis Consumers
Cargile’s dispensary caters to older adults, and she notes the differences between older and younger consumers. She points out that most purchase weed to relieve chronic pain issues. She also finds that seniors are more likely to purchase edibles, tinctures, and capsules as opposed to smokeable products.
Older adults also prioritize safety over potency. Researchers don’t know much about how marijuana affects seniors because user groups have been too small to study. Older Americans may keep this in mind when they make their purchasing decisions.
They prefer set doses and tend to choose lower doses.
Boomers Represent a Growing Market of Cannabis Consumers
Boomers may be lightweights, but their resiliency makes them contenders. Inflation caused young adults to cut back on their cannabis spending in 2022-2023 by 17%. Boomers cut back by only 2%.
Uthe, the Wisconsin farmer, lives in an illegal state surrounded by the legal states of Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.
He notes that the stigmas brought on by Reefer Madness and other anti-pot media “is looked at like a joke now.” Most of his pot-using friends “are basically home growers, like it used to be back in the 60s and 70s.”