Uncle Carl and the Cannabis Conundrum

The Era of Decriminalization of Recreational Marijuana

By Leah Felderman BA MA  
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Marijuana Use in Older Folks Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Once upon a time, not too long ago, there lived a family in the newly minted suburbs of middle America. Because this was the post-war era the family dynamics were stereotypical for the time: a nuclear family where the Dad went off to work daily (in his Detroit-made car) and Mom stayed home raising their 2 young boys. The 2 boys, Carl and Clifford, would grow up in what was known as the “baby boomer” generation.

As most kids do, Carl and Clifford participated in coming of age shenanigans and lifestyle experimentations. There was the summer of love of course, Woodstock, political protests, and a whole bunch of pot-smoking. As they graduated college and progressed up the chain in their corporate jobs, the pot-haze of college and young adulthood faded into the cathartic rhythms of the suburbs and the humdrum of daily living. So delusively sudden, Carl and Clifford found that they had entered adulthood; trading the consciousness-expanding partying of their youth for backyard bar-b-ques and children’s birthday parties. Both brothers were now married with young children of their own and in what was seemingly a blink of an eye, their kids were going off to college and they were giving the age-old yet very hypocritical “don’t do drugs, make smart decisions” speech before sending their kids off to what would inevitably be 4 years of a little studying, a lot of experimentation, and hopefully a degree.

Suddenly the now middle-aged brothers could see their retirement on the horizon. Their “kids” were now young adults, and they had an empty nest. Finally! The freedom to walk around in nothing but underwear again (even though the wives would protest)! What other freedoms could Carl and Clifford rediscover now that their decades of work and child rearing were over?


Enter the era of decriminalization of recreational marijuana!

Let’s be clear: pot, marijuana, cannabis, weed-whatever name you choose and for whichever purpose you use (medical or recreational) it is 100% illegal in the United States. Federal government trumps any and all state laws, and federally pot is illegal. However, marijuana is becoming decriminalized in an increasing number of places in the US. State and local laws regarding recreational marijuana use are loosening as the country begins a pendulum shift in its outlook and policies towards pot as lesser sin, yet one that can be a regulated commodity and a taxable, profitable vice.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults (21 and older).

Since 2012 Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have all legalized/approved recreational marijuana for adult-use.

The scope of legalization varies from commercial sale, to home-growing, to a blanket legalization of possession and use. In addition to legalization in these 9 states (and DC), pot is legal for medical use in 30 states and decriminalized in 22 states.


Should you be concerned?

Should you be concerned that Uncle Carl has traded in his weekend cigar and scotch for a bedtime doobie? Is it concerning or merely awkward to observe Uncle Carl reverting to his hippy, pot-smoking roots? Furthermore, if Uncle Carl is taking full advantage of marijuana legalization, what in the world are your own parents doing on the weekends?

While decriminalization of pot is all well and good, you should be concerned if your dear Uncle Carl is reverting to his pot-smoking youth in a state where pot is merely decriminalized and not legalized. Unless Uncle Carl has a green thumb and grows his own he is still taking pretty significant risks when buying weed. While small amounts of possession is decriminalized, the act of selling is still a fairly significant criminal offence. Plus, have you ever known a criminal to only have one particular crime they specialize in? Does a pot dealer really only just sell pot?

Think of any afterschool special you ever saw about buying drugs from strangers in back alleys. The dangers still apply, even more so if you’re elderly and haven’t dusted off your street smarts in quite a while. The caveat to this is perhaps Uncle Carl lives where pot is decriminalized, and he is just over the state line from a place where pot is legalized and sold out of licensed dispensaries. Perhaps this is a relief as you don’t have to worry about Uncle Carl in a drug deal gone bad, even if the bad deal is just being overcharged and undersupplied.


But what about his health?

Won’t all the pot smoking make Uncle Carl dull in the head? What about his lungs? How will it affect all his current health concerns and medications? How in the world does marijuana use affect and effect dementia and Alzheimer’s?

The answer to all these questions is: we don’t know. To be quite honest, we still won’t know definitively for quite a while; marijuana, even for scientific use, has been tightly regulated and there have not been enough quality, comprehensive studies. We just don’t know how pot and its long-term effects will affect our mainstream lifestyles as we age. Does marijuana help chronic pain? Yes. But pot is mind-altering and therefore addictive. By no means is it as addictive as commonly prescribed opiates but it is also less regulated than pharmaceuticals. Maybe Uncle Carl will consistently smoke on the weekends, something with a milder THC dosage, and be comfortably relaxed; or maybe one day he’ll consume an edible with 90% THC concentration and his mind will be mush for a day or two. Pot smokers are notoriously forgetful with dulled senses-can we really afford to have Uncle Carl less cognizant than normal?

There is little debate as to the efficacy of medical marijuana. It is used to treat a variety diseases and symptoms. In addition to the states where medical marijuana is legalized, there are a few FDA approved cannabis-based drugs. Yet, none of these apply to Uncle Carl. He is as healthy as any septuagenarian can be and he lives a relatively healthy lifestyle. So, the question remains-should you be concerned about Uncle Carl’s rediscovered love of pot?

Marijuana is a drug, just as are prescription opiates and alcohol. Talk to your aging loved one if you observe any misuse and/or signs of addiction such as:

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Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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