The perception that old people are generally anti-cannabis is far from a myth. Although many elderly cannabis enthusiasts have plenty of friends who are pro-cannabis, statistics show a strong negative correlation between being aged 65+ and voting for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 2017. This essay describes what those enthusiasts already know: that there is a strong case for cannabis law reform from an elderly perspective.
The unpleasant truth about getting old is that it tends to involve a lot more healthcare than being young. Getting old is tantamount to the body crapping out. It’s a miserable truth to acknowledge, but there is a strong correlation between aging and physical suffering.
Because of this elevated degree of physical suffering among the elderly, there is an elevated demand for medicines of all kinds. Everyone knows that old people are always popping pills for some ailment or other. The increased sickness and frailty that comes with aging means that elderly people are interested in all kinds of medicine and, increasingly more nowadays, in cannabis.
One of the areas in which cannabis has shown the most promise for the elderly is an alternative to opiates for the sake of pain relief, particularly in the case of cancer and terminal illness. An article in the European Journal of Internal Medicine describes how cannabis was found to be a safe and effective medicine for the elderly population in this way. Its greatest benefit seems to be found in replacing opiates and thereby avoiding their profound and unpleasant side-effects.
Cannabis has also shown promise in treating a number of conditions that are much more likely to afflict the elderly, such as Parkinson’s, insomnia, some forms of chronic pain, age-related cognitive decline and hypertension. This is only a small sample – cannabis has also shown promise in treating entire classes of illnesses, in particular inflammatory ones.
Despite the attempts by prohibitionist interests to equate cannabis with more harmful substances such as tobacco, the fact is that a vast range of medicinal uses for cannabis are already known. It’s very possible, given the evidence thus far, that further research into cannabis will uncover new ways to alleviate the suffering of the world’s elderly.
Some will make the argument that all of this evidence in favour of medicinal cannabis, which is an entirely separate issue to recreational cannabis. But just because the elderly have plenty of reason to support medicinal cannabis doesn’t mean that they have reason to oppose wider cannabis law reform.
It has been discovered in Canada that freeing up restrictions on recreational cannabis encourages doctors to write prescriptions for it. When “recreational” cannabis is illegal, this normalises the idea that cannabis itself is harmful, and discourages doctors from writing prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. Therefore, the two issues are inseparable.
The fact is, as Edward Bernays might have told us, that the amount of research that gets done into cannabis medicine for the elderly is a direct function of the degree of positive sentiment towards cannabis that exists in the wider society. The more people in general feel that cannabis is helpful and not harmful, the more likely someone is to suggest to research its medicinal qualities, or to agree to fund such research.
So the elderly everywhere have an interest in liberalising restrictions around cannabis, because this will lead to doctors taking an interest in the application of the plant to alleviating the suffering of conditions that afflict the elderly.
All of these things add up to there being good personal reasons for elderly people to support cannabis law reform.
After all, the elderly overseas support cannabis law reform – it has been noted that many of the beneficiaries of cannabis law reform have been elderly. The fastest-growing group of cannabis users in legal jurisdictions are the over-65s. The article linked here, from the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, states “marijuana use seems normalized among the older populations as more of those who ever used marijuana age.”
The fact that many elderly are against cannabis law reform, despite being the major beneficiaries of it, is not a contradiction. Those generations were the ones exposed to a viciously anti-cannabis mentality that was not above telling lies to demonise the plant. Because of this normalisation of the idea that cannabis is harmful, it’s understandable that someone raised in this era might still believe so.
However, there remains a moral imperative to look honestly at the evidence for and against cannabis before making a decision to support its prohibition. This ties in with one final thing the elderly might like to consider: the question of goodwill. This is a question of what kind of legacy they want to leave for those who come after them.
The Police are unlikely to arrest old people for cannabis offences (although they do). They are much more likely to go after the grandchildren of those old people. When the grandchildren of old people get criminal convictions for using cannabis, they have to live with those for the rest of their lives, and (as argued in another chapter) the effects of a criminal record are disproportionate to the suffering caused by cannabis offences.
The elderly don’t win from their offspring getting criminal records.
Ultimately, the elderly might like to think about cannabis law reform, not just for their sake but for their children and grandchildren. It will be those generations who will be looking after them in the old folks’ homes, and many of the nurses who work there would like to have access to cannabis to unwind after a day of work. The smart thing to do might be to stay on their side.
This article is an excerpt from The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, compiled by Vince McLeod and due for release by VJM Publishing in the summer of 2018/19.