Seniors pack in medical marijuana forum in Sun City Texas
A senior forum discussing the benefits of medical cannabis this past week was standing room only in Sun City Texas where more than 50 people were turned away due an overwhelming interest by those in the community.
In all, there were 115 attendees for the Texas NORML Senior Alliance event which asked the question, “can cannabis help seniors with medical issues and be a substitute for opiates?”
Sun City Texas is a 4,100-acre, age-restricted community located in Georgetown, Texas about 35 miles north of Austin. Residents must be at least 55-years-old in order to live in the community. Event organizer Dawn Brooks says that she’s never seen seniors come out in such large numbers for a marijuana-related event.
“It was amazing to see a roomful of seniors wanting information about cannabis,” she states.
Featured speakers included Nishi Whiteley, author of “Chronic Relief: A Guide to Cannabis for the Terminally and Chronically Ill” and retired judge, John Delaney. Also speaking were Brooks and Jax Finkel, who is the executive director of Texas NORML.
“I gave a brief Cannabis 101 type presentation in the context of how it relates to aging,” Whitely says. Included in her presentation were the similarities and differences between cannabis and hemp, the therapeutic components of the plant, a quick look at the endocannabinoid system, risks and side-effects including possible positive side-effects, the three common denominators of disease including inflammation, oxidation, and pain, as well as how they are related to aging and how cannabis helps manage that.
Whitely also spoke about “the opioid crisis and how cannabinoids boost the effectiveness of opiates making it possible to reduce the dose, therefore reducing the risk of addiction and side-effects.” Seniors were also able to take a look at the top ailments of those 65 and older and how cannabis can be used to provide relief for those ailments. An emphasis was put on how much safer the cannabis plant is compared to the many drugs seniors already take which can damage organs in the body.
Both Brooks and Whitely say they were blown away by the response.
“The desire for information among seniors is great,” Whitely says. “People wanted to know if cannabis would help alcoholism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, their grandchild’s seizures, cancer, PTSD. I think for many of them it was a huge eye opener. So many people think cannabis is illegal for substantive reasons. When they realize our national cannabis policy has nothing to do with science and that cannabis is safe and has a low toxicity profile they start to realize that there is something sinister going on here and that the only way forward is for them to get involved. It was a success!”
Seniors represent a large voting block in Texas, and consistently turn out to vote in both primaries and general elections at higher levels. Combine that with the fact that Texas is nearly last in voter turnout, and seniors become a coveted constituency.
After a prolonged push, in 2015 the Texas legislature and subsequently governor Greg Abbott, made the move to legally recognize the medicinal value of cannabis by establishing the Texas Compassionate Use Program, which is just now going into effect. Only those with intractable epilepsy can qualify for the program, which allows the production of CBD extract from the cannabis plant. Many other patients have been left behind however, and those who have been able, have moved to states with more robust medical cannabis programs.
Nationally, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 91 percent of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana. This is in line with a number of other surveys which have similar findings. A Texas Tegna poll in 2016, whose findings have since been pulled, found that 71 percent of Texans support having access to medical cannabis. Another poll by University of Texas and Texas Tribune in 2017 found that 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use.
As older generations of Texans decide that cannabis is a preferred medicine for their ailments, the pressure will be on for lawmakers to ensure that these people are able to access that medicine.
Organizations such as Texas NORML have sought to get ahead of the information curve by producing voting guides for those seeking to elect officials who have favorable views towards changing marijuana laws. Their most recent guide covers the Republican and Democratic primaries, which are set to be held in March of this year.
There will be more senior-focused events in the near future according to Brooks, who is already working to put together the next one.
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