Senior Living Providers Can No Longer Blow Off Pot Policies
As more older adults embrace marijuana use, senior living providers who don’t take heed of the budding trend could find themselves in legal hot water—even if they operate in states where medical and recreational cannabis use is legal.
Seattle-based Lane Powell PC, a regional law firm headquartered in Seattle, saw a noticeable uptick in senior living providers seeking advice on marijuana policies when Washington and Oregon legalized it for recreational use in 2012 and 2015.
“Oregon and Washington…we’ve had medical marijuana for years, so a lot of our providers here were used to dealing with that,” said Gabriela Sanchez, shareholder and co-chair of the firm’s senior living and long-term care team. “What’s new is the recreational piece. We do get a lot of questions about marijuana use.”
In recent years, some senior living providers have sought to navigate the legal hazards of recreational and medical marijuana, from storage to where and how seniors can use it. Still, others might be tempted to adopt a kind of don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy regarding pot use among their residents. And that’s the wrong way to do it, Sanchez said.
“It’s important for you to regulate the things you can,” she explained to Senior Housing News. “If you take a head-in-the-sand approach, you’re increasing your risk of enforcement actions.”
Pot’s growing popularity
It’s safe to say the acceptance of marijuana is on the rise in the U.S., at least in the eyes of the public. Even former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said his thinking on the leafy green plant “evolved” in recent years.
As of the beginning of 2018, eight states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana, as has Washington, D.C. On top of that, 22 states have legalized medical marijuana to date.
As laws have changed, so too has public perception, including among older adults.
A recent University of Michigan/AARP survey found that 80% of responding adults age 50 to 80 “strongly” or “somewhat” support medical marijuana use when a doctor consents. Furthermore, 18% of those surveyed said they personally know someone who uses pot for medical purposes—a possible “tipping point” for the drug.
It’s not just medical marijuana, either. A Pew Research Center survey released in January found that a whopping 56% of baby boomers favor total legalization of pot.
“What I always tell my clients is, these are all your future residents,” Sanchez said. “If you think your residents are using marijuana now, just wait until a little bit.”
Marijuana cultivators and suppliers are also taking note of this trend.
For Olive Tree Wellness Center, a medical cannabis dispensary in Ramona, California, “canna-boomers”—or baby boomers who use pot—represent a growing share of the consumer marketplace, according to Carlos Gutierrez, the dispensary’s spokesperson. Some of their favorite products at Olive Tree include vaporizer cartridges, pot capsules, infused topical creams and marijuana “flower,” which is also known as bud or leaf marijuana.
Still, senior living communities have been a “tough nut to crack” thus far, Gutierrez told SHN.
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