Dec 18, 2023 - Health

More older San Franciscans are using weed

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

More and more older adults are using cannabis now, which could be a boon for California's estimated $5.3 billion cannabis industry.

Why it matters: As more states legalize marijuana, the barrier for consuming cannabis — in all of its many forms — has become lower, sparking interest among older folks interested in pain relief and recreation.

Zoom in: In San Francisco, the share of people 65 and older who said they'd used cannabis within the last month increased from 10% in 2017 (a year after marijuana was legalized in California) to 13.7% in 2022, according to the latest data from the California Health Interview Survey.

  • Statewide, the share increased from 17.3% in 2017 to 25.4% in 2022.

Zoom out: Nationally, 8.4% of people age 65 or older said in 2022 they had used marijuana in the past 12 months, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  • That's a significant increase from about 0.4% of seniors who reported using it when polled in 2007.
  • A 2021 survey found that the majority of seniors who had used marijuana in the last three months had done so for medical purposes.

The big picture: 38 states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

  • Federally, the drug remains illegal despite shifting public sentiment and a lengthy bipartisan push in Congress.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended that the substance be reclassified to a lower-risk category under the Controlled Substances Act.

Of note: The uptick in usage among older people comes as marijuana use has become more common for all age groups. The increase could stem in part from decreasing social stigma around the drug.

  • That uptick, however, has coincided with an increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits for those 65 and older in California, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The bottom line: The percentage of folks 65 and over using cannabis will keep climbing as the stigma surrounding the drug continues to decrease in popular culture, Beau Whitney, chief economist at Pacific Northwest-based cannabis consulting company Whitney Economics, told Axios Portland's Meira Gebel.

  • "It will peak out at some point," he said. "We just haven't reached the peak yet."
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