That kindly gent with the rose garden, the cute little old lady in the deli line, the mahjong master at the community center — any one could be among a growing portion of our aging population: the senior stoner.
In retiree-rich South Florida, some golden-agers are — gasp! — sporting illegal smiles as they discreetly puff on joints to ease the aches and pains of advancing years.
"It's like taking a magic pill," said a 70-year-old Boca Raton woman who smokes pot almost daily to counteract cancer chemotherapy pain. "I can have a crappy, crappy day and I take one toke and in less than three minutes I'm leveled out and feel wonderful."
Such scofflaws opt to flout convention rather than suffer. And their numbers are hardly insubstantial: 30 percent of Americans 50 and older have tried pot, according to a 2009 survey by the government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive.
Last year, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that drug use among seniors has increased more than 3 percent over the past eight years. The number is expected to triple by 2020.
One recent convert was a 70-year-old Delray Beach woman who calls herself Mary. "I'm a good, Catholic churchgoing person," she said. "I've never taken a drug in my life."
But when a friend with an out-of-state prescription for medical marijuana offered a joint to alleviate the "excruciating" pain of a shoulder injury, Mary took a chance.
"I had one hit and I went, 'Oh, dear God, this is awesome,'" she said. "It made me feel that much better. It absolutely should be legalized."
For years, a 65-year-old Pompano Beach retiree tried every manner of drug from Dilaudid to morphine to battle pain from damaged bones, arthritis and fibromyalgia. "I've been on all the hard drugs and nothing happens," he said. Then he sampled a little reefer.
"I'll tell you, the first hit there was Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah day," he said. "The only thing that helps is happy grass."
Obtaining the illicit weed can be problematic for seniors. The Boca Raton cancer victim relies on her husband — while retaining plausible deniability. "He might get it on the golf course," she said. "I don't know where, I don't ask."
The Pompano Beach man grows pot in his backyard, cures it and smokes by the thimble-full in a hookah-like machine. "It's very therapeutic," he said. "I'm thinking of putting signs out in my yard — they could say 'Legalize Pot.'" One of his "happy grass" pals is 80.
Celeste Wheeler, 89, also of Pompano Beach, has never tried it, but is curious about joining the reefer club. "I'm very interested," she said. "Maybe something could help my back pain."