Oakland pot advocates hope to pass a resolution to legalize recreational marijuana by targeting East Bay soccer moms. And it might just work…
Illustration by Nigel Buchanan
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Jan, a retired schoolteacher, attended a wedding last year at Wildwood Acres Resort, deep in a wooded canyon in Lafayette. It was a warm summer evening, and after the ceremony, about a hundred people gathered under a canopy of oak and bay trees to sip from champagne flutes and chat with friends and family. A large wood-fired smoker promised a savory meal, and caterers busily prepared for a white-tablecloth service. Just before dinner was served, several small groups of two and three guests began to break off from the main reception area. They strolled a discreet distance down a tree-lined driveway, and soon the pungent scent of marijuana began to waft through the warm night air.
A woman asked Jan if she had seen the small groups slipping off to smoke pot. “She was a little upset and surprised that sort of thing happened so openly,” Jan says. “I, on the other hand, was not surprised at all.”
Jan, who asked that her real name not be used due to marijuana’s lingering social stigma, says that over the past few years, pot smoking has become increasingly common at gatherings of Contra Costa County’s middle-aged professionals. Jan, 62, and her husband regularly attend parties that include medical professionals, attorneys, educators, real estate investors, and successful businesspeople.
“At fancy affairs or casual get-togethers, there is always someone announcing that they are going outside to light up and anyone who wants to can join in. Some do, others don’t; but no one seems to have a problem with it,” Jan says. “They are mostly in their fifties and some in their sixties, and for the most part, they smoked in college, and now that their kids are grown and out of the house, they have started smoking a little pot again.”
Jan and her husband raised two daughters who are now on their own, and since the nest has been empty, the couple have returned to smoking pot. “It’s not like as soon as our kids left the house we said, ‘Great, they’re gone; let’s go score some weed,’ ” Jan says. “It happened kind of naturally.” The couple, who do not have a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana (they get it from a friend), feel they don’t smoke that much: sometimes at parties or when they’re on vacation. And maybe a few times a month before dinner, they will go out on their deck, perched on the edge of a wooded valley, and get high.
Jan and her friends are part of a growing demographic of aging baby boomers who have rediscovered marijuana after years, even decades, of abstaining. According to a recent study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana use among 55- to 59-year-olds has more than tripled, from 1.6 percent in 2005 to 5.1 percent in 2009. The report predicts that those numbers will increase as the country’s 78 million baby boomers age.
People like Jan are returning to pot for a variety of reasons. They cannot drink as much as they once did, and some have had problems with alcohol and can no longer drink at all. Some smoke marijuana to help ease medical conditions or age-related aches and pains. Others smoke out of nostalgia for their tie-dyed youth. “And it’s good for sex,” Jan says with a quick arch of her eyebrows.
The back-to-pot trend showed up in a scene in the 2009 romantic comedy It’s Complicated. Meryl Streep and Steve Martin portray fifty-something divorcées who start smoking pot again after nearly three decades of raising children and pursuing successful careers. In the scene, Streep’s character remarks on the powerful new marijuana hybrids that are now sold in dispensaries. She says, “I don’t know what they’ve done to pot in the last 30 years, but it rocks!”
Should Pot Be Legal?
We polled our readers at diablomag.com about their thoughts on Prop. 19. Here’s what they said.
In favor of Prop. 19.
Would want a pot dispensary in their town if it increased local tax revenue.
Would use it if Prop. 19 passes.