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Newshawk: CMAP ( )
Pubdate: Sat, 12 Jul 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Colin Freeze
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


As The Taboos Around Pot Smoking Disappear, Some Seniors Have Started Indulging In A Puff Or Two To Help Ease The Pain Of Aging, Writes Colin Freeze

With a titanium knee and a sore spine, 74-year-old Clara Welling is all too familiar with battling an aging body's aches and pains. So, inside a cookie tin, she keeps a secret weapon tucked away.

Sealed in a Ziploc-bag lies the septuagenarian's small stash of marijuana. Speaking and smoking pot on the balcony of her 19th-floor Toronto apartment, the free-spirited senior said she enjoys marijuana -- and that more of her contemporaries ought to try it.

"If more people understood it, I would see more people outside, having joints instead of cigarettes, and not worrying about their pains and their ailments and enjoying life," she said, from the small apartment she shares with her two cats, Whiskers and Tye-Two.

Ms. Welling, an occasional indulger who was introduced to the drug by her children, says she smokes marijuana for fun as well as for practical reasons. "If I want to get my housework done, without so much pain here and there, I have a smoke and I can get it done in two hours," she said.

"I always like to have a puff and a beer ready when I watch Coronation Street."

For many of us, marijuana conjures up images of long-haired teenagers listening to Pink Floyd's The Wall. But because marijuana is losing its stoner taboo and is increasingly regarded as a plant with medicinal properties, its appeal now spans generations. The mainstreaming of marijuana became abundantly apparent this week as the Canadian government announced plans to distribute the drug, selling it through doctors at $5 a gram to approximately 500 licenced users who are chronically ill.

That Ottawa is getting into distribution is testament to shifting attitudes. A generation ago, parents felt dutybound to warn their children off pot, fearing it would fry their brains or cause calamity. But now there is a growing sense that marijuana, if used appropriately and in moderation, can help people. As adult children see aging parents suffer, they are asking them to try a little something to ease the pain.

One B.C. senior began smoking several years ago, at the age of 68, at the suggestion of his son.

"My dad had back pain and all sort of troubles and started smoking pot. I encouraged him to do it," said the man's son, who spoke from Montreal on the condition that his name not be revealed.

Suffering from stress and depression, the father was taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. "I actually felt a lot more comfortable with him smoking a joint," the son said, describing his father as a man who was traditionally "very square."

"We just kind of rolled a joint and I said to my dad, 'Why don't you go ahead?' And he did.

"And he was coughing and hacking but then he was just unbelievably calm and kind of at peace with things -- and I hadn't seen him that way in years."

It wasn't long before the father's new hobby was married with a more traditional pastime for seniors. "Within about a year he was growing it in his garden."

The father was growing beautiful plants, with the help of a fertilizer well known in pot-growing circles. "We got to talking about it and he said, 'Oh yeah, I've been giving them Bud Blaster.' I said, 'Dad, where the hell did you learn about Bud Blaster?' "

Many seniors, however, aren't quite so ready to smoke up. The appeal of marijuana remains largely generational. A recent poll found that although one-quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Canadians smoked marijuana in the last year, only 1 per cent of those over 65 had done the same.

So it's not surprising that another B.C. senior had reservations about the idea. "My mother had gone through chemotherapy last fall and was having a hard time eating anything and was rapidly losing weight," explains Tina Madden, a 34-year-old Torontonian.

Ms. Madden was devastated to see her mom shed 30 pounds as prescribed drugs failed. "The doctors were trying different kinds of medication to ease her nausea," she said. "None of them were very good." So she pressed her mother to read up on marijuana on the Internet, hoping to convince her that pot could reduce nausea -- and perhaps induce a much-needed case of the munchies.

Yet despite living on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast -- an epicentre of Canadian pot production -- Ms. Madden's mother declined the drug. For her, the stigma was too strong. "She said, 'I don't want to have anything to do with that in any way, shape or form,' " said Ms. Madden, whose mother eventually recovered without using pot.

Given the growing medical marijuana movement, one aging hippie in B.C. says it's a shame many seniors just say no to pot. "My generation of people are not like me, okay?," said Michelle David, 64. She estimates that only a very small percentage of people embraced the 1960s counterculture like she did.

Originally a Quebecker, she was introduced to marijuana while hanging around with California hippies and beatniks in the 1960s. Many of her comrades, she laments, have since died from addictions. But Ms. David still feels one substance is more of a help than a hindrance -- she is involved with a compassion club that distributes marijuana in Vancouver.

Such clubs exist in cities throughout North America to provide the chronically ill with marijuana that's cheaper and safer than what can be bought in the street. (Some experts caution that many forms of today's marijuana, which can be highly potent, may lead to paranoia among the uninitiated, and are thus unsuitable for seniors.)

The clubs, which are occasionally busted by police, service far more than the few hundred Canadians who can now smoke legally.

Yet despite the relatively easy access to pot offered through compassion clubs, Ms. David says she finds it a struggle to introduce the drug to people her age. "If they smoked marijuana they would be much better off than taking their sleeping pills and Demerol."

In her own case, she finds it helps a lot. "I'm a mess," she says, speaking of kidney disease, glaucoma and osteoporosis.

"But what marijuana does is it keeps me out of the nursing home . . . If I didn't smoke, life would be very difficult."

It's a sentiment Ms. Welling might agree with. "There's so many stupid people out there who don't understand it and don't want to understand it," she said. "I stopped trying to explain it to people."

Ms. Welling, whose doctor disapproves of her marijuana use, obtains the drug from a compassion club. Her son, who suffers from a spinal condition, brought her there three years ago.

Besides being a card-carrying member of a compassion club, Ms. Welling also belongs to a seniors' centre. Every morning, before 8 a.m., she takes a Wheel-Trans over to the centre, where she lifts weights, drinks 50-cent coffee and plays snooker.

Few people there know about her secret. She is afraid that talking about it might scandalize fellow club members. "These seniors, they have their cigarettes and they puff away," says Ms. Welling, miming a frantic smoker and making slurping noises. "And I think, 'What would happen if I joined them and just took out a joint? They would flip.' "

Ultimately, the spritely smoker argues that using marijuana is a matter of personal choice. "I'm not missing anything in this life," she said. "I want to try everything.

"Because I may not come around again," she adds.

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