Culture

A pot club seniors can love

October 11, 2017
Santiago Mejia
Mary Ann Blackwell (center) smokes marijuana out of a vaporizer during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
SOURCE: Santiago Mejia

Although seniors are the fastest growing demographic of cannabis consumers, they’re also a group that often faces isolation and shame from medical professionals, family or friends for using marijuana. One Northern California group, the East Bay Senior Cannabis Social Club, is trying to change that.

On Aug. 18, the club met at Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness, a licensed dispensary with a large lounge. About 30 people age 50 and up chatted, snacked on tomato basil mozzarella skewers, finger sandwiches and cookies, sipped juice and sweet tea, and took turns on communal cannabis vaporizers — and it didn’t take long for a smoky haze to fill Magnolia’s private, purple-walled vaping room.

While some of the seniors smoked cannabis just for the fun of it, most of them were using the plant to treat arthritis, anxiety or pain.

Jean, 57, for example, has been sick all her life. She’s a petite, New York native and former high school science teacher. Intense muscle spasms prevent her from driving and falling asleep at night. To treat her multiple autoimmune diseases, her doctor prescribes the powerful, addictive opioid narcotic Oxycodone monthly. Every month, she tells them, “This is not what I want.”

Michael Grafton, also known as Grand Daddy Mike, smokes marijuana out of a vaporizer during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
Santiago Mejia
Michael Grafton, also known as Grand Daddy Mike, smokes marijuana out of a vaporizer during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.

With her doctors unwilling to prescribe cannabis, she turned to Magnolia and the cannabis social club for help. Jean declined to provide her last name to prevent being refused medical treatment, which has happened in the past. She now uses mouth drops rich in cannabis’s second most common active ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) to treat her muscle spasms, which “make a huge difference,” she said.

“I wasn’t into drugs. This was not an easy leap for me. And I feel very comfortable here,” she said. It was her third time attending a club meeting.

Laura Graziano, founder of the East Bay Senior Cannabis Social Club, and client advocate for Green Rush Consulting, a cannabis industry consulting group based in Oakland, Calif., went into health advocacy after her mother, Florence, died of bone cancer about three years ago. Cannabis helped Graziano’s mother with loss of appetite and pain in her final months of life. After her mother died, Graziano decided to dedicate her life to educating people about cannabis for seniors.

She and Melodye Montgomery — a medical marijuana usage consultant at the unaccredited pot college Oaksterdam University in Oakland — started the club earlier this year. The Social Club is a program of East Bay Canna, a volunteer-run, community-focused organization founded by Green Rush Consulting.The group began with 10 members and has met five times so far.

“Every month it got bigger,” Graziano said.

The marijuana at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
Santiago Mejia
From left: Mark Rutherford and his wife Susan Rutherford react after smoking a concentrated form of marijuana called a "dab" during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.

Now, the club has about 75 total members.

Friday was 57-year-old Yansa Toussaint’s first time at a club meeting. She wore a jean jacket, purple lipstick, hoop earrings, and spoke in a deep, yet cheery voice. Toussaint first tried cannabis in her late 30s, and now uses it to treat anxiety and depression.

“With cannabis, I feel the effect. Some things don’t bother you like they do. It teaches me to be in the moment,” she said. “My parents, I stress about how long they'll be with me. Sometimes, I stress about not having kids who will take care of me when I get old. And sometimes, I stress about this presidency.”

Toussaint also went to Friday’s meeting hoping to find a community.

“Since I retired, it’s kind of hard to find a group. You don’t have the day to day contact with people,” she said.

For Rich Moskowitz, 50, cannabis saved his life. “I had horrible teeth my whole life,” he said. And after a botched cosmetic dental surgery, Moskowitz was left in a lot of pain.

“The two things that kept me from killing myself were my girlfriend and cannabis,” he said.

Mary Ann Blackwell (center) smokes marijuana out of a vaporizer during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
Santiago Mejia
Mary Ann Blackwell (center) smokes marijuana out of a vaporizer during the East Bay Senior Social Club at the Magnolia Dispensary on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.

One of the group’s missions, according to organizers, is not only to provide a community support network for seniors, but also to eliminate stigma outside of the group, regarding seniors and cannabis use.

“This movement is education. People need to see, like, this,” said Moskowitz, as he gestured to the room of attendees. “Look at me. Look at these people. We’re doctors, lawyers, business owners. We’re all here.”


IF YOU GO

East Bay Senior Cannabis Social Club

Third Friday of each month; rotating times: 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.)

Magnolia Wellness (venue changes monthly)

161 Adeline St.

Oakland, CA 94607

(510) 628-2119

https://www.facebook.com/EastBaySeniorCanna/