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Beth Lacey: Assuring Older Adults That Cannabis Is OK

A grandmother to 8, a dog lover, a former banker: Beth Lacey wears a lot of hats. But one title that still surprises some is “cannabis consumer.” 

Despite the double-takes and puzzled look she gets, the Ethos – Pleasant Hills product associate is far from the only person who doesn’t look like a tie dye-rocking, bleary-eyed stereotype some of the public think of as cannabis consumers. At 57 years old, she is one of about 562,000 older adults in the U.S. that finds relief from chronic pain through cannabis.

“Cannabis has meant everything to me in improving my quality of life, and now, I’m helping other people as a dispensary associate,” said Lacey.

Diagnosed with scoliosis, arthritis, and ADHD, Lacey is no stranger to how cannabis helps soothe her chronic pain and improve her ability to focus. But what has changed in recent years, Lacey said, is access, information, and a growing acceptance of cannabis as medicine among other older adults. 

“Back in the ‘70s and the ’80s, people my age and older didn’t have options, and many of them have no idea that they can try a capsule, RSO, or lotions, too,” Lacey said. “When what I can buy is safe, clean, and predictable from a dispensary, I can calm myself and relieve my pain… It’s a huge relief for someone my age to be able to walk into a store, where they know they’re buying a quality product.”

Older adults are widely regarded as the fastest-growing sector of cannabis consumers in the United States. And contrary to popular belief, their reasons for consuming cannabis aren’t solely medical. According to New Frontier Data, 25% of older adults aged 55+ buy cannabis for pain relief, but a precisely equal number turn to cannabis for relaxation. Lacey said this often surprises younger patients who come to the dispensary, who don’t expect a 57-year-old grandmother like her to have personal experience with cannabis. 

“Just being in the dispensary is redefining how anyone who comes in perceives the typical consumer,” Lacey said. “This, coupled with our medical cannabis program, makes people more open to discussions and learning than they were before. People want relief, but they don’t want to inhale and go to work. They learn about phytocannabinoid ratios that can help them feel better without the ‘high,’ and their whole perspective shifts.”

Nowhere has Lacey seen that shift more prominently than with her 80-year-old father. A former member of the National Guard, Lacey said that her father was involved in enforcing some anti-cannabis policies, and that much of that work had shaped his generally negative thoughts about cannabis. 

“I was so scared to tell my parents – my anxiety was through the roof when I shared with them that I work at a dispensary,” Lacey said. “I was so nervous that they would stop talking to me because I consume cannabis. I had been hiding that part of my life from them for decades.”

Instead of the harsh response she expected, her father shared that a friend, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, worked part-time as a security guard at a nearby dispensary, and asked questions about how the program worked.

“As it turned out, his attitude completely changed after the legalization of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania,” Lacey said. “To sit down and have productive conversations with my dad about cannabis changed everything. Not only does he accept it, but he embraces it..”

Although Mom has yet to come on board, Lacey said her notable shift from outright rejection to acceptance is progress. Lacey’s next goal is to sign up her mom, who has chronic back pain, for a medical cannabis card.

“She’s not there yet, but she has accepted that this is what helps me,” Lacey said. 

Other members of Lacey’s family have become medical cannabis patients over the years. One of her daughters is a medical cannabis patient, and one of her grandsons, in the third grade, is administered medical cannabis to help control symptoms related to Tourette’s syndrome.

“I didn’t have to have the same conversation with my daughter about getting a medical cannabis card like I had to have with my parents, and that alone is a huge relief,” Lacey said.

Even with the shift in attitude she’s observed among her own family and others her age, Lacey knows that there are still many hesitant to talk about cannabis, both privately among friends and even with dispensary associates. 

“My parents have a friend from church who came to the dispensary, recognized me, and asked me not to tell anyone they were there – they were terrified that I would tell everyone,” Lacey shared.

But Lacey said she wants to assure these patients that “it’s OK to consume cannabis” and that nobody at the dispensary will tell their friends, family, or community that they’re in the medical cannabis program.

“Cannabis helps such a broad range of people, and I know from experience how serious they are when they say this medicine changes their lives,” Lacey said. “It makes me feel better knowing that their day is a bit brighter because they came to see me on their way home.”

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