Recently I attended an event at Rossmoor, in Walnut Creek. Little did I know that they have a senior community of 10,000. How great it was to see acceptance, education and people TALKING about medical cannabis!! There was a report on site, Joe Garofoli and this is the article that came out in the SF Chronicle.
by Joe Garofoli
Updated 1:59 pm, Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Doug Stiles shows a bottle of liquid cannabis in his home at the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek. Stiles takes 20 drops before bed to help with his anxiety and help him sleep.
Pot was for fun in Rossmoor resident Doug Stiles’ youth. Now he takes it in liquid form to ease anxiety and help him sleep.
There is a club for Bay Area marijuana enthusiasts where most members don’t want to get high. Mostly because they’re afraid of falling. Or getting too disoriented.
The club is in Rossmoor, the senior citizen community of 10,000 near Walnut Creek.
With an average age of 76, Rossmoor is the kind of place where smoking is banned, though many puff cigars in plain sight on the golf course. But before the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education and Support Club held its first meeting in 2011, marijuana was rarely seen, smelled or discussed on the facility’s surgically trimmed grounds.
Since then, the club has grown into a 250-member juggernaut, illustrating the growing acceptance of marijuana in America by seniors — and their growing frustration with mainstream pharmaceuticals prescribed for pain relief.
In 1986 — the heyday of the nation’s War on Drugs — 9 percent of the generation of Americans born between 1928 and 1945 supported legalizing marijuana. That has jumped to 29 percent among that demographic, according to a Pew Research report released this month.
The survey also showed that it might be time to dig through Grandpa’s golf bag: 19 percent of Americans over 70 have tried weed, including 2 percent in the last year.
That might be an undercount, according to some Rossmoor weed aficionados. Many residents are cultivating more than azaleas at home.
“Oh, sure, I’ve got a plant. A lot of people here do,” one woman said after a club meeting last week in Rossmoor. “But I can’t give you my name.”
That’s a common sentiment. One club member asked to remain anonymous because “my son owns a business near here.” A few still haven’t told their kids they’re members because they have spent the last 50 years telling them not to smoke dope.
Perhaps because of the reluctance of seniors to discuss their marijuana habits, neither AARP nor the Marijuana Policy Project could provide any studies of cannabis use by seniors. AARP doesn’t have a policy on medical cannabis, even though it is now legal for medicinal use in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
Appropriately, it was on a Rossmoor golf course where the club held its first clandestine meeting four years ago. Twenty cannabis-curious pioneers set up folding chairs near the first tee box at 4 p.m., when they knew most of their golfing neighbors would have already left for cocktail hour, which, like many things in Rossmoor, starts a little early.
“People were still not sure if they wanted to be out about (marijuana) then,” said Renee Lee, a 63-year-old retired therapist who is president of the club. “There was still a stigma about it.”
Lee was among those who wanted to call themselves the 420 Club, but that reference to the weed smokers’ holiday of April 20 never stuck because, as Lee said, “a lot of people didn’t know what it meant.”
They went six months without a name. But club members quickly bonded over their shared disappointment in pharmaceuticals they had been prescribed. Either the pills weren’t helping them or the side effects were more onerous than their actual ailments.
Their knees and elbows and backs creaked. They had trouble sleeping. They were anxious. All they wanted was some relief.
So why not try a little pot?
Sometimes it was their adult children who suggested it. More often the notion came from a medical-cannabis-card-carrying neighbor, who would offer a weed-infused lemon drop or a dab of a topical cream. It was a leap of faith for seniors who never tried pot — or hadn’t indulged since the Kingston Trio was topping the charts.
“The most common thing they say is, 'I’m not doing this to get high,’” said Rachna Patel, a Walnut Creek osteopath who has treated about 100 Rossmoor residents who use cannabis for pain relief. “A lot of them will first say, 'I can’t believe that I’m doing this.’”
But many are soon smiling at the results. Doug Stiles hadn’t partaken in years until he moved to Rossmoor about four years ago. Then he started rubbing a cannabis-infused topical solution into his wife’s knees to help with her arthritis. Four months later, she was moving more easily. Now Stiles takes cannabis-infused drops at night to soothe his anxiety and help him sleep.
Back in the day
That’s not how he used marijuana during his occasional indulgences as a young man.
“I remember at a party smoking with a brother-in-law, then going out to the liquor store. But we had to pull over in the park because we were laughing so hard,” Stiles said. But “now it’s about pain — and feeling better.”
What initially “surprised me,” said Eloise Theisen, a nurse practitioner in Lafayette who helps dozens of Rossmoor residents manage their health conditions with cannabis, “is how open they’ve been to trying new things.”
But club members aren’t your typical stoners. “Everybody always shows up 15 minutes early for the meetings,” said Lee, who used cannabis to help her with the aftereffects of acoustic neuroma surgery.
Dozens of Rossmoorians are now smoking or vaping or nibbling at edibles, mostly in the quiet of their homes.
Just for fun
Nobody smells weed outside. Unless maybe it’s coming from members of Rossmoor’s other cannabis club — a group focused less on education and support and more on enjoying the herb’s recreational pleasures. Unlike the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education and Support Club, the other group is not officially recognized by the administration.
The harder question for some is one that’s rarely been uttered in the half-century history of this 1,800-acre enclave: How can I score some weed in Rossmoor?
Medical cannabis dispensaries are banned in Walnut Creek, and there are few east of the Caldecott Tunnel.
And forget getting pot through that newfangled smartphone technology. The app-based marijuana delivery service Eaze — which promises cannabis within minutes for card-carrying Bay Area users — said only 2 percent of customers are seniors. Eaze is launching a pilot program with a San Diego senior community to learn how to make it easier for seniors to get deliveries.
“There’s definitely an untapped market there,” said Eaze spokeswoman Caroline Vespi. “There’s still that perception among some seniors that the only place you can get (cannabis) is from the dealer on the corner.”
After accepting an invitation to speak to the club a couple of years ago, the Harborside Health Center arranged for a tour of the Oakland medical cannabis dispensary. Now it counts dozens of Rossmoor residents as customers.
But nurse practitioner Theisen said venturing unaccompanied into a dispensary can be overwhelming for some seniors.
So, many Rossmoor residents get their weed from what once might have been an unlikely source: their grown children. State law allows medical cannabis patients to designate someone as a caregiver.
As the general public’s attitude toward marijuana has warmed over the past few years, the club’s membership has swelled, and some of the region’s top cannabis figures have appeared before them.
Last week’s meeting drew a record 81 members to hear John Malanca, founder of United Patients Group, a website that offers news and information about medical cannabis.
“How many people here think the only way to take marijuana is to smoke it?” Malanca asked the audience.
Not a hand went up.
“Wow,” Malanca said, rocking back a step. “When I was here a few years ago, 60 percent of the people raised their hands.”
After the meeting ended, Malanca said, “When I asked that, people just looked at me like, 'That was the most boneheaded question.’ But that’s why when I visit retirement communities around the country, I tell them about the amazing things going on at Rossmoor.”
Orange County aficionados
But while Rossmoorians are becoming weed sophisticates, they still lag behind their demographic peers at the Laguna Woods Village — formerly known as Leisure World — in Orange County. Cannabis-using residents there have established a relationship with a Humboldt County grower and created a distribution network in the community that has the administration’s blessing.
Down there, if Laguna Woods Village Cannabis Club organizer Lonnie Painter wants to smoke a joint outside his residence, he just sparks one up.
“Oh, sure,” said Painter, a 69-year-old retired restaurateur. “I do that almost daily.”
Joe Garofoli is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @joegarofoli