[Editor's note: Going into Tuesday's historic vote in six states on legalization and medical cannabis ballot initiatives, one of the last, but not too unsurprising hold out demographics in America to fully embrace cannabis law reform are senior citizens.
Please share the below essay, a distillation of author Laurel Dewey's wonderfully readable book Betty's (Little Basement) Garden, with friends and family in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas and Massachusetts.
Also, checkout the great work of the Silver Tour, coordinated by Robert Platshorn, which is the premiere public advocacy project today reaching out to America's senior citizens about medical cannabis and the need for law reforms.]
By Laurel Dewey
During the nearly two years I spent researching my book, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, I met a lot of seniors who were intrigued with the idea of using marijuana to either replace their prescription medications or eliminate them completely. The problem was that most of these people had either never used marijuana or had bought hook, line and sinker into the fervent propaganda campaigns against the herb. Many of the seniors I interviewed told me they’d be open to using the herb if they knew it was effective and safe. Based on my conversations with them, I complied a list of the most common questions and concerns they had. In addition, some of the seniors shared their observations and reactions with me when they used marijuana for the first time.
1. Marijuana is SAFER than prescription medications.
This might be hard to believe if you’ve been trained to believe the propaganda campaigns but it’s absolutely true. According to the CDC, in 2008, 36,450 deaths were attributed to prescription drug overdose. How many people have died from using marijuana? NONE. Ever. If you look at the stats, acetaminophen is more dangerous than marijuana, leading to the death of over 450 people annually. And the “side effects” of marijuana are minor in comparison to the side effects of many prescription drugs. You will NEVER see a warning such as, “This drug may increase the likelihood of suicide or suicidal thoughts,” connected to marijuana. Sadly, the same cannot be said for other medications.
2. Marijuana is not addictive.
Ask any responsible individual who uses marijuana and they will tell you that the herb is not physically addictive. People can use marijuana daily and then stop it “cold turkey” and their body will not revolt with shakes, tremors or sweat-soaked withdrawal. Ask that same marijuana user and he/she will happily tell you that marijuana is “habitual” and “a pleasant respite” from pain, anxiety and stress. Looking forward to feeling that relief is more akin to looking forward to reconnecting with an old friend than the anxiousness that surrounds “getting your next fix.” As one woman told me, “I’m addicted to getting a good night’s sleep. Marijuana helps make that possible because it forces my mind to stop racing and I can finally relax.”
3. Marijuana can increase the uptake of certain pharmaceutical drugs, allowing one to reduce the daily dose of their medication.
Research shows that certain cannabinoids—especially the psychoactive cannabinoid THC—within the marijuana plant can and do increase the delivery of various classes of drugs. For example, marijuana naturally lowers blood pressure and often regulates it over time. Thus, if you are taking blood pressure medicine while also using marijuana, you need to be watchful and keep an eye on your blood pressure. Opiates are typically enhanced when marijuana is used concurrently. The bottom line is that marijuana has the potential for accentuating the effect(s) of many popular drugs because it has the capability of also replacing those drugs for some users. That brings us to #4…
4. Marijuana can and does replace multiple OTC and prescription medications.
One of the obvious complaints seniors have regarding their daily medications is that the first pill often causes side effects that the second one is supposed to “fix.” But that rarely happens and more drugs are typically prescribed, until the patient doesn’t know whether their medicine is doing them more harm than good. Marijuana is a multiple dimensional healing plant that targets varied conditions such as inflamed joints, high blood pressure, chronic pain, digestive disorders, constipation, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, cognitive awareness and more. Thus, this herb could easily replace close to one hundred percent of what’s in senior’s medicine cabinet right now.
5. Marijuana does not cause brain damage or lower IQ.
“I don’t want to use anything that’ll make me more dingy than I already am!” I heard this comment a lot from seniors. Some were genuinely convinced that if they took one puff of a marijuana cigarette, their mental capacity would sharply diminish and remain that way. While neophytes may need to learn how to “train their brains” when they use marijuana, there is absolutely no documentation that shows the herb reduces or “kills brain cells.” In fact, the opposite is possibly true. Studies with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients indicate that the herb gradually encourages new neural pathway development in the brain and could be a neuron protector, allowing those with impaired brain function to potentially halt further degeneration and even elicit enhanced cerebral function. Furthermore, marijuana actually encourages creative problem solving, with some users reporting being able to “figure out solutions to problems I’ve been struggling with for a long time.”
6. There are specific marijuana strains that have been bred to remove “the high.”
A certain percentage of the seniors I talked to were adamant when they told me, “If I could get the medical benefit from the plant without the high, I’d consider it.” That’s absolutely possible now, thanks to a cannabinoid called CBD (Cannabidiol). Plant breeders are working overtime to develop “high CBD strains” that either have no THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana) or have a small percentage of it. CBD is great for inflammation, eases pain, stimulates bone growth, suppresses muscular spasms, reduces anxiety and increases mental focus.
7. You do NOT have to smoke marijuana to gain the benefits from it.
Understandably, a lot of seniors either can’t smoke due to health issues or choose not to smoke. And thanks to the “stoner persona,” they believe that the only other way to take the herb is via the ubiquitous “pot” brownie. The fact is that marijuana can be added to just about any regular recipe in the form of cannabis infused butters or oils. For example, you can replace your salad dressing oil with “canna-oil” (marijuana infused olive oil) and discreetly ingest it at mealtime. There are also liquid extracts, syrups, lozenges, candies, chocolates, etc. to choose from. Liquid extracts allow users to “titrate” or regulate their dose. In other words, one can literally take the extract drop by drop every ten minutes or so until they reach the point of physical or mental relief they’re after. For those who miss smoking and like inhaling marijuana, vaporizing is alternative to smoking. Vaporizing allows the user to inhale the heat sensitive essential oils while smoking the herb tends to burn those up.
8. Marijuana-infused products can be used topically for effective relief from cuts, burns and inflammatory pain.
Most people can’t believe the topical powers of this ancient herb until they see it in action for themselves. One woman suffered a moderate burn on her finger that was quite painful. Her niece applied a small amount of a concentrated marijuana salve and bandaged it. The woman reported that her finger stopped hurting almost immediately and within three days new skin had grown over the burn. A simple marijuana-infused salve can diminish arthritic joint pain and works quite well for low back discomfort. And there is NO cerebral psycho-activity from topical use of marijuana-infused products.
9. Marijuana use will not necessarily make you fat.
A lot of seniors may not know much about marijuana but they have heard about “the munchies” that the herb is purported to encourage. Yes, it’s true that this plant can stimulate the appetite but the distinction should be made that appetite “enhancement” is also likely. What this means is that if a senior is not interested in food, if they use marijuana and then take a bite of food, the taste and texture of that bite is often improved and the desire to experience that same taste sensation again is increased. The concern about “getting fat” when you use marijuana is not a fait accompli. If you need to put on extra weight, marijuana can help make that happen. But there are also those who use marijuana daily in their food and report either losing extra pounds or stabilizing at a weight that better suits them.
10. There are thousands of marijuana strains and they are good for different things.
One strain does not fit all. There are strains that are specific for anxiety and strains that are targeted for insomnia. You wouldn’t want to take a strain that is meant for deep and restful sleep when you needed to interact and function with friends and family. Likewise, ingesting a strain that is meant for social interaction and creative problem solving when you really just want to get some sleep would not be your best choice. Most of the seniors I talked to didn’t know the difference between an Indica strain and a Sativa strain. And Indica is more sedating to the body and mind while a Sativa is much more elevating and energizing. Even when one finds a marijuana strain that consistently works for them, it can be advantageous for seniors to try different strains because tolerance to the same strain has been known to build up.
11. Marijuana can be fun.
One thing I noticed with the seniors I talked to is that many of them feel like life has no excitement left. Then, after using marijuana, many of them gushed to me about they “haven’t laughed that hard in years,” or how they noticed something about their surroundings that they’d never seen before. “Life,” as one woman expressed it, “was enhanced.” Colors were more vivid, music was crisper, her morning coffee tasted better and overall, she felt “reacquainted” with the world around her. Others told me that they enjoyed better social interaction and were able to “forget” or “leave behind” their doldrums and grief and “breathe in life again.” For those seniors who have become stuck in their ways, marijuana can afford them the opportunity to be more creative and even experiment with ideas and concepts that are outside their scope of comfort.
What I took away from all these wonderful people was the realization that marijuana has the potential to improve seniors’ lives on multiple levels. For those who enjoyed it, it was their ally for physical maladies and a friend to them when sadness, anxiety or depression lurked closer. For those who were intrigued by it but were also nervous about what they’d been told, education—free from propaganda—was the key to unlocking their courage and giving a little plant the chance to change their life.
* * *
Laurel Dewey is the best selling author of the Jane Perry thriller series as well as the standalone novel, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, the first fiction novel featuring medical marijuana in Colorado. Laurel lives with her husband and two orange cats in rural Western Colorado.
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We are entering the final week before Election Day and our efforts to educate Americans about marijuana law reform have never been more important. Polls show that victory is within grasp with Colorado’s Amendment 64, Washington’s I-502, and Massachusetts’ Question 3 all recently tracking towards a win, but it will still be a close race to the finish in all states.
Help us raise awareness for these important initiatives and Smoke the Vote next Tuesday by helping us take the message viral in the final stretch. Below you will find one simple action you can take each day before the election to help promote marijuana legalization. Let your friends and family know that you stand for rational reforms to marijuana policy and remind them to get out and vote!
1 – Wednesday, October 31st
2 – Thursday, November 1st
SMOKE THE VOTE
3 – Friday, November 2nd
Spend a Friday night in, preferably with friends and family, calling voters for Amendment 64 and Measure 80. You can either call voters in support of these initiatives by yourself, from anywhere in the country -or- you can pool your efforts and set up a phone banking party. At your disposal are SSDP and NORML’s phone bank to dial voters under 30 for Amendment 64 and JustSayNow‘s phone bank to call voters over 30 (also allows for dialing for Oregon’s Measure 80!)
4 – Saturday, November 3rd
Share the latest campaign ads! Post them to Facebook, tweet them at celebrities, email them to your grandparents, post one to your blog…just spread them as far and wide as you can. If you live in one of the states voting on an initiative or can directly target people you know who are, all the better.
WASHINGTON I-502: It’s Just Common Sense
COLORADO Amendment 64: Veteran’s for Amendment 64 OREGON: MEASURE 80 ARKANSAS: VOTE YES ON ISSUE 5 MASSACHUSETTS: YES ON QUESTION 3
5 – Sunday, November 4th
Share NORML’s Smoke the Vote Guide with your social networks. Remind everyone to confirm their voter registration and to check their current polling location, as it may have changed since they last cast a ballot. They can also get caught up on all the marijuana related voter initiatives and view the presidential candidates stances on cannabis.
Post something like:
Did you know the election is on Tuesday?! Check out this page to confirm your registration, find your polling place, and learn if you can vote on marijuana law reform on November 6th. Smoke the Vote!
6 – Monday, November 5th
Pledge to make some final “Get Out The Vote” calls! You can RSVP for a specific time slot here and get an email reminder when it is almost your scheduled time. These final calls are crucial to reminding our supporters to get to the polling booth and they are our final chance to persuade them to support our efforts! If you can’t make phone calls, can you at least pledge to personally email or facebook message 10 of your friends about the election? Anything you can do to help in the final hours of the campaigns take us another step towards legalization.
7 – Tuesday, November 6th ELECTION DAY!
Get out the vote! Share all the above images and videos. Tweet reminders to your friends to #SmokeTheVote (#YesOn64 #YesOn502 #YesOn80). If you live in a state with in-person election day voting, offer to drive your friends, family, and coworkers to the polls. Turn out is extremely important, we have to make sure everyone knows to get out and cast their ballot and to vote YES on the marijuana law reform initiatives.
After you’ve nagged everyone who will listen, dragged your last friend to the polling station, and cast a ballot yourself, come home and tune into www.blog.norml.org – we will be having live election night coverage giving you the latest from our contacts on the ground, exit polling, first results, and more!
Together, we can do this. Together, we WILL legalize marijuana. Let’s start on November 6th.
With just one week left until the election, there have been some recent news to report on, including two new campaign ads and several new polls.
New Approach Washington, the campaign behind the state’s I-502 to regulate marijuana, has released a new television ad focusing on the ways regulation will help control youth use. In the ad, a Washington mother discusses the issues of the black market and how cannabis legalization can help protect our children. “Young people have easy access to marijuana, and of course drug dealers don’t check IDs,” she states of the current system of prohibition. Regulating marijuana would help solve these problems, she says, it is “just common sense.”
You can view this new advertisement below:
Polling data released last week by Strategies 360 had I-502 at 54% support with opposition trailing at 38%.
The campaign in Colorado supporting Amendment 64 has also released a new television ad, this one focusing on the issues facing our veterans suffering from PTSD. The commercial features a father and returning veteran who is unable to procure the cannabis he needs for his condition under Colorado’s medical marijuana laws. Under the current law, patients suffering with PTSD do not qualify for access, but Amendment 64 would remove criminal penalties for possession and would provide them places of safe retail venues at which to procure their medicine.
“Please vote YES on Amendment 64 so that other vets don’t have to suffer.”
In other news from Colorado, the latest polling from PPP had Amendment 64 leading by ten points, 53% support to 43% opposition. Help us take Colorado to victory by utilizing our online phone banking programs and begin calling Colorado voters from the comfort of your home today! Each dial results in a person that is more likely to vote, and more likely to vote YES. You can use SSDP and NORML’s phonebank to dial voters under 30, or the JustSayNow phonebank for voters over 30.
New polling data out of Oregon shows the number of undecided voters is diminishing. Data just released by The Oregonian has support for Measure 80, which would end the state’s marijuana prohibition, at 42% with 49% opposed and 8% still undecided. Previous polling had Measure 80 with 37% support and 41% opposition with 22% undecided. You can help push Measure 80 to success by using JustSayNow’s online phone bank to call voters in Oregon by clicking here.
The latest polling out of Massachusetts still has their medical marijuana initiative, Question 3, with a strong lead over its opposition. In data released this week by Suffolk University/7NEWS, Massachusetts voters support Question 3 by a margin of 55% to 36%. This is a slight drop in support from polls earlier in the year, but still very much on the track for passage.
The latest polling data coming out of Arkansas shows a rough fight ahead for their ballot initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana. In a poll conducted Thursday, October 18th, by TalkBusiness and Hendrix College had support for Issue 5 at just 38%, with opposition at 54% and 8% are undecided.
For more information on the initiative and on how you can help legalize medical use of cannabis in Arkansas this November, please visit the campaign’s website at www.arcompassion.com
Learn more about the local initiatives up for vote in Michigan here.
Don’t forget to get out and vote! Find your polling place, check your registration status, and read about all the state and local initiatives by using NORML’s 2012 voter guide, Smoke the Vote.
The only polling data we have for Oregon’s legalization initiative, Measure 80, shows a very close race with a massive number of undecided voters. In a September survey of 633 registered voters by SurveyUSA, 37% of voters said they were definitely voting yes on the measure, 41% said they were definitely voting no, and 22% remain undecided.
Now there is a way you can help convert those undecideds into strong YES votes! JustSayNow has partnered with Oregonians for Law Reform to provide a web-based phone banking system to enable cannabis advocates around the country to volunteer their time to pass Measure 80.
Click here to easily register and begin calling voters today. Once you create an account, simply click start calling voters for Measure 80 and you will be given a step by step script and the information for a registered voter in Oregon.
JustSayNow’s program also provides options to call voters in support of Colorado’s Amendment 64, and even has a unique “Women Calling Women” feature so female cannabis reformers can directly reach out to other women.
If each person who saw this blog post committed to making just 5-10 calls a day from now until November 6th, we will see legalized marijuana in 2012.
Sign up today: START CALLING VOTERS
Note: The phone banking for Oregon is available during proper call hours.
Guest Blog by Joshua Schimberg, Executive Director of Texas NORML
2012 Election is the Most Important in Marijuana Law Reform History
This year could likely be the most significant in marijuana law reform history. In case you hadn’t heard, three states, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, will be voting on some form of marijuana legalization on November 6th, and two states, Arkansas and Massachusetts, will be voting on medical marijuana.
Perhaps even more significant than all of these proposals, are the recent nationwide polling numbers regarding marijuana legalization. In October, 2011, for the first time ever, Gallup reported a plurality of Americans, 50%, were in favor of legalizing marijuana, with 46% opposed. Then, in March, 2012, Rasmussen also reported a plurality of Americans in favor of “legalizing and taxing” marijuana (47% favored, 42% opposed) in order to “help the nations financial problems.” However, the biggest news came just a few months later when Rasmussen, again, asked the question, but with a slightly different slant. In May, Rasmussen asked Americans if they were favored legalizing and regulating marijuana “in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco,” and the answer was overwhelmingly yes, with 56% in favor and just 36% opposed. Considering the polling trend over the past decade, this most recent poll seems to suggest that we are nearing a point where Americans support marijuana legalization at a two to one margin. This is huge news, but it doesn’t necessarily mean an easy or quick victory.
The last time any state voted on marijuana legalization was in 2010, when California’s Prop. 19 was voted down in what many people viewed as an upset. That defeat, despite widespread support of marijuana legalization in California, demonstrated the complicated nature of voter ballot initiatives, and also highlighted fault lines in the activist community. Marijuana law reform activists and supporters are not a monolithic group. More than fifteen years of legal medical marijuana in California, brought about by the passage of Prop. 215 in 1996, have changed the activist landscape there and, more broadly, the west coast. Subgroups and alternate factions of activists, with different goals and agendas, have popped up not just in California, but in many states which have seen years of legal medical marijuana access.
Differences between activist groups were highlighted prior to California’s vote on Prop. 19. Some medical marijuana activists feared it would harm their access, and some legalization activists feared it didn’t go far enough, or still included too many restrictions. The problem with that logic is medical marijuana has been increasingly under attack, and even in California, according to the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center, misdemeanor arrests for marijuana have sharply increased over the past 20 years to record levels of nearly 55,000 per year, comprising 22% of all drug arrests. Marijuana possession arrests in California have increased more than 100% since 1990. Nationwide in that same time, marijuana arrests have increased more than 250%, going from 326,850 to more than 850,000, and nearly 90% of those arrests are for possession. What conclusion should activists take from this?
Despite the success of medical marijuana laws, there is much more work to be done in order to end the massive number of marijuana arrests nationwide. And if history is any indicator of how to accomplish that, states like California will have to take the lead as they did with medical marijuana. Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, 16 other states, and Washington D.C., have followed suit. Even with more than one third of our country having passed some form of medical marijuana, our Federal government has not yet moved on the issue.
Enactment of marijuana prohibition didn’t happen overnight; neither will its end.
Consider that the first state to pass a law against marijuana was Massachusetts in 1911, 26 years before Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. During the 26 years between Massachusetts’ law and the Tax Act, nearly 20 other states passed anti-marijuana laws. Solidification of marijuana prohibition came more than thirty years after the Tax Act, when it was listed as a Schedule I Controlled Substance under 1970’s Controlled Substances Act, after which marijuana arrests began to balloon. The lesson here is that changing established public policy is not something that can be accomplished uniformly, quickly, or easily. But, nationwide policy is more likely to change as more states join in, and this November could very well bring about the first state to vote for legal marijuana. If so, it will likely be the first in a long line of states to do so before the Federal government.
For that reason it is imperative for marijuana law reform activists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, to put everything into passing their respective legalization initiatives.
The sooner we can get the first “domino” to fall, the quicker more broad changes will happen. Activists fighting against activists are delaying progress, and they should keep in mind that public opinion plays a vital role in voter initiatives. If 56% support legalizing and regulating marijuana “in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco,” it’s highly likely the number will significantly drop without sensible regulations. Even many in the legalization community agree with some sensible regulations, especially if that expedites an end to hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests every year.
Ending those arrests is the goal of organizations like NORML, and that is why we support any and all steps in that direction. Whether it’s a decriminalization bill, an affirmative defense medical bill, (both of which NORML has supported in Texas for years) or if it’s a legalization bill (with regulations) in Colorado, Oregon, or Washington, NORML supports any and all chances at protecting responsible, adult marijuana consumers from arrest and imprisonment.
Election Day 2012 is November 6th, so keep an eye on Colorado, Oregon, and Washington to see who will be first to legalize. Keep an eye on Arkansas and Massachusetts to see who will be the next medical marijuana state.
This is the biggest Election Day in the history of marijuana law reform.
For more information on marijuana law reform around the country, visit: