Dec 12, 2023 - News

More older Washingtonians are using cannabis

Illustration of weekly pill case with marijuana leaves labels.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

More and more older adults are using cannabis now, which could be a boon for Washington's estimated $1.4 billion 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.

By the numbers: In Washington, the share of people 65 and older who said they'd used cannabis within the last 30 days has increased from 0.7% in 2011 (the year before weed was legalized) to 9.4% in 2021, the most recent year for which the state Department of Health has data.

  • That's not the age group with the highest percentage of users, but it is the only age group that has seen a steady incline, per the DOH data provided to Axios.
  • Washingtonians ages 25–34 had the highest usage rates in 2021, with 26.7% saying they'd used cannabis within the last 30 days, but that was down from 28.8% in 2019.

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 a majority of seniors who had used marijuana in the last three months did so for medical purposes.
  • The number of older adults using cannabis as alternatives to prescription drugs is expected to continue rising, according to a report by the University of Washington's Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute.

Meanwhile, the widespread presence of CBD, which can be found as balms, gummies and even sparkling water in grocery stores, may also make seniors feel confident enough to visit dispensaries.

Catch up quick: Washington and Colorado made history in 2012, becoming the first two states to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over.

The big picture: Earlier this month, Ohioans voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, making it the 24th state to allow adult cannabis use for non-medical purposes, writes Axios' Jacob Knutson.

  • Thirty-eight states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
  • Federally, the drug remains illegal despite shifting public sentiment and a lengthy bipartisan push in Congress.
  • The 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.

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.

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